Travel Log 11 “Holding up Half the Sky” by Elizabeth Marino. Barcelona, Spain

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading Half the Sky due to the monstrosities that filled the pages, but the authors, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, certainly did a good job at getting their message across. The book was a way to call readers to action. The authors shared horrid stories of girls being brutalized as a way to encourage people to help solve an enormous problem that receives too little attention. Although the authors filled the pages with stories of heinous crimes against women, they wanted readers to focus on the transformations of empowerment these women could make if they are given help. Throughout the book Kristof and WuDunn also shared encouraging wisdom that they gained throughout the journey of writing this book. One lesson they shared that stuck out to me was that “even when a social problem is so vast as to be insoluble in its entirety, it’s still worth mitigating” (Kristof & WuDunn, p.45). I thought this shared lesson was significant because I think people often give up and say “what’s the point” when their help seems to barely make a dent in a problem. The authors want to convey that even if one person is helped, it is still a success that is worth it.

Meena Hasina’s story, the second story told in the book, was one that really caught my attention. I think the authors started off with Meena’s story because it comes full circle. It was a good way to show how someone in such an unbelievably terrible position can have a better life with a little help. Before Meena had even turned ten years old, she was whisked away from her family in India and taken to a brothel to become a prostitute. Her story showed how even the strongest of women can be forced into sex slavery by the means that ruthless people use. The authors described Meena as defiant and resilient, but in these situations, even a strong personality such as Meena’s can’t keep you out of prostitution. The brothel owners drugged and beat Meena into being compliant. While all the details of the story disturbed me, the detail about drugging the woman really struck me. The authors described how many of the prostitutes develop drug addictions due to this, and this creates a problem for these women even after they are rescued from sex slavery. It shocked me that some women would voluntarily return to the brothels after being rescued because of the drug addictions. Meena eventually escaped from the brothel, but even this was a bittersweet even for her. Even though her life was at risk, she was torn because she had to leave behind her two children. Meena courageously returned to the brothel time after time, risking her own life, in order to rescue her kids. With help from Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Meena was reunited with her children. Now, Meena herself works to prevent prostitution in Forbesgunge, India.

As a student studying health science, maternal mortality was a topic that really caught my attention. One paragraph in chapter six begins with “Conservatives battle forced abortions in China, and liberals fight passionately for abortion rights in foreign lands. But meeting the challenge of women dying in childbirth has never had much of a constituency” (Kristof & WuDunn, p.98). After reading this I asked myself, is this really still a problem? I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know that so many women were still dying during childbirth. I thought that this rarely ever happened due to the medical advancements we have today. I guess my mind had never wandered far out of the United States concerning this topic. I haven’t thought about how this still occurs frequently in countries that aren’t as fortunate to use all the medical advancements that exist today. The authors discussed maternal mortality ratios (MMRs) to show a contrast. While the MMR for the U.S. is 11 deaths for every 100,000 births, it is 2,100 deaths for every 100,000 in Sierra Leone. One way individuals in my field can lower these statistics is by bringing our knowledge, skills, and technology to hospitals and medical units in these countries. For example, Catherine and Reg Hamlin from Australia established the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. If there were more educated and well-equipped doctors in these countries, I’m sure less women would perish during childbirth or pregnancy.

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