Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” Reaction Paper by Samantha Prevot. Notting Hill, London, England.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide, a book written by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, is an incredibly powerful, incredibly insightful work that not only sheds light on many different women’s rights issues around the world, but also makes things personal by telling individual stories from women around the world who are facing these issues. I was captivated by each story and learning about these issues, some of which I already had some knowledge of, made me feel compelled to share this knowledge with the people around me.

To me, the overall message of this book is that women are the key to making true change in the world and if the oppression of women continues, then the world, especially the poorest countries, will not be able to thrive. Through the information given and the stories that are told in the book, we see the impact that providing women with better health care and education has, as well as putting in the effort to increase their social status and eliminate harmful cultural practices such as genital cutting. The book also tells us that getting involved isn’t difficult, time-consuming or costly, unless you would like to invest the money and time, and even provides various resources for ways to get involved. As a woman, I felt even more connected to the stories presented in this book and the issues that these women are facing. One issue in particular that I connected to was the issue of women’s education and the story of Dai Manju, a young girl in China.

Dai Manju’s parents were barely literate, as they had dropped out of elementary school. To them, Dai Manju’s school fees seemed to be a waste of money and so they told her to drop out of school. Dai Manju was the top student in her grade, and desperately wanted to keep going to school. She would hang around her school, hoping to learn something even though she could not go inside. Her teachers tried to help support her, but it wasn’t enough. Then after Kristoff and WuDunn wrote an article about Dai Manju, a reader wired them $10,000 to pay her tuition. The man’s bank made a mistake, as the donation was actually only $100, but they were kind enough to donate the difference. Because of these generous offers, Dai Manju was provided with tution-free schooling as long as she passed her exams, and the school was given much-needed renovations in addition to a scholarship program being set up for local girls. Dai Manju passed through all levels of school, including the equivalent of accounting school. She ended up becoming an executive at a Taiwanese electronic company, but wanted to start a company of her own and her boss supported her. Dai Manju has been able to send money home to her family, and they have upgraded from living in a small shack to a six-room concrete house and they added electricity, a stove, a television, and a fan.

Dai Manju’s story is one of the many in this book that demonstrates the power of educating girls. Reading this story, and the countless others about girls struggling to get an education, made me extremely upset. I have been privileged to receive a wonderful education throughout my life; I attended New York City public schools from elementary school until high school, and got the opportunity to receive education in programs for the academically gifted at my public middle school, The Scholar’s Academy and my public high school, Townsend Harris High School. Today, I am attending a wonderful private university, and am paving my way for a bright future. I am very grateful for all of the educational opportunities I have received throughout my life, and I am grateful that my parents, who are both teachers, encourage me to grow and learn every day. It deeply saddens me that many young girls around the world do not get the same educational opportunities or support from their families. To me, education is a right, but in some of the countries mentioned in this book people see education, especially the education of girls, as a luxury or something that should not be allowed. I believe that knowledge is power, and all girls should have the opportunity to become empowered. It has also been shown that educating women has a positive impact on society. Kristoff and WuDunn write, “One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is also often a precondition for girls and women to stand up against injustice, and for women to be integrated into the economy.” They also mention that education causes women to marry later in life and have fewer children. In addition, it is shown that countries such as Rwanda, that have a parliament that is made up of a majority of (educated) women, are some of the least corrupt, best governed, and fastest growing in Africa. In short, educating women is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Learning about this and reading stories like Dai Manju’s made me want to put in effort to help educate women around the world.

As a journalism major, I always consider the media and what they choose to cover, and it always astonishes me when certain issues, that seem very important, are not covered. After reading this book, I wonder where the features are about issues such as genital cutting, women’s education, maternal mortality, and obstetric fistulas. I am also always thinking about the inequality women still face in America because I aspire to become a sports journalist, and sports journalism is still very much seen as a man’s world. Many women who are hired to cover sports are young and good looking, and in my opinion usually offer nothing significant in the way of analysis. Even when I tell people that I want to be a sports reporter and that my favorite sport is hockey, they are often skeptical and doubt my knowledge of the sport. Some men have even told me “You only like hockey because the players are good looking.” It’s times like these that remind me that I have an uphill battle in my chosen field of work and that I will spend a lot of time trying to prove myself when I should not have to do so.

This leads into the other connections I made to this book having to do with the women’s rights issues that we still face in America today. I am not normally a very outspoken person when it comes to politics, although I am very opinionated, because I know many people have many different values, but when it comes to women’s rights I will always say something. In high school, I did a project about the United States’ family leave policies, particularly maternity leave. The U.S. is the lowest ranking amongst developed nations when it comes to maternity leave. We are also still in heated debates within our government about funding planned parenthood and what rights women should have to their bodies. In addition, according to Half the Sky, 17% of our House of Representatives were women in 2008. I’m not sure how much that number has grown in 9 years, but I’m sure it hasn’t grown much. To me, these things are all outrageous and wrong. How can we, a developed, democratic, civilized nation, still be so far behind when it comes to women’s rights? If we are going to try to help other countries take steps forward to help women, then we need to set an example and take some steps forward as well. I also think that journalists need to shed more light on these issues to make them better known to the public, and people like Kristoff and WuDunn are helping pave the way for that to happen. Many of the women in this book are women they have written features of in the past and to me personal stories are the best way to inspire people to act because they evoke emotion in people and create feelings of sympathy and empathy. If people can put a face to an issue, they will feel more connected to it and have more of a desire to do something to help. I think that it’s important for people my age in my field to become more educated on these issues because then as they enter the field they may be more inspired to put a spotlight on them to spread knowledge to the public. This is because while older people in the field may be set in their ways, younger people can come in and try to make a change for the future. I hope that there will be more people like me, especially my fellow women, out there who learn about these issues and feel as passionately as I do and want to get the word out there so we can begin to help more and more girls all around the world and begin to bridge the gap between men and women. Women are vital to making a better world and without proper health care, education, and general respect, then that better world will not be possible.


Works Cited

Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Print.


Travel Log 11 “Holding up Half the Sky” by Aileen Sheluck – London, England

The book Half the Sky was a very interesting read for me. It was really eye opening but saddening at the same time. I think this is a topic that is difficult for a lot of people to discuss or read about because it is so sensitive. Especially being a girl, it is really difficult to read about how other girls in other parts of the world are being so oppressed and are not allowed the same rights simply based on their gender. I think the overall message of the book is to show how so many women are still being oppressed. I think this is an issue that not a lot of people realize is happening since most women in America don’t experience this kind of oppression. The authors really just want people to understand how much these women deal with. I think this book uses experiences and stories as a call-to-action for people to stand up for universal human rights. Everyone can do something – whether it’s donating a small amount, physically visiting and aiding these areas, or simply raising awareness about this massive issue. I think this is what the authors’ real purpose what is writing this book.

One girl’s story that impacted me was that one Dina – the seventeen-year-old who was raped by men of the Hutu Interahamwe militia. Her story is so shocking. And what’s even more shocking is that this sort of behavior is common in her area. She was left, basically to die, in the grass. “’My people had no tribal conflict with them…their only purpose was to rape me and leave me bleeding and leaking wastes’” (Kristof 85). This line in particular really gave insight into the helplessness of these girls. There was absolutely no reason for the attacks against them. Dina was so injured, and her family couldn’t afford to take her to the care facility. Luckily for Dina, HEAL Africa was able to take her to Goma for treatment. Even after she was healed, however, she returned back home. She thought that, no matter where she went, she was exposed to a tremendous amount of risk (whether it was the war coming close to Goma or being raped again in her hometown). It really is so awful what happens to these girls, and the people who commit these heinous crimes are never tried for it. They believe they have a right to violate them. It’s horrifying.

There is a section in the book about micro lending, which I really relate to since I am a finance major. Micro lending is the lending of very small amounts of money to people in a developing country. For example, in the book, a woman named Saima took out a $65 loan to buy beads and cloth for embroidery. To companies in countries like America, $65 is absolutely nothing. But to women like Saima, $65 is everything. I find this whole concept very interesting. There is an experience for Quinnipiac students in my program to take a micro lending trip to Nicaragua. I’m not sure if I in particular will be taking this trip, but doing things like this can really help a lot of people in developing countries. They really have nothing, and lending such a small amount of money means that it isn’t really a big deal if the debt can’t be repaid. Of course, the idea is that this small loan will allow a person’s business to grow big enough to when they can repay the loan easily. But the main point is to give people something for a foundation. It is very easy for people to get involved with projects like this, and it makes a huge difference in the lives of the people who receive the loans.

Travel Log 11 “Holding up Half the Sky” by Chris Wilner, London, England

Coming from the United States, you never realize what you have until someone explains how much worse off they are or how much better off you are for living in the country that you do. Across the world I have always known that women are treated differently than men, just as they are in the United States, but in the United States is something as minimal as lower wages for the same work. I’m not saying this isn’t an issue because it is, but compared to the hardships that woman in the rest of the world face; wages are nothing but a drop in the bucket. Half the Sky was an eye-opening documentary depicting the hardships that women must endure in order to stay alive.

I decided to watch the documentary instead of reading the book and thinking about it now, I’m not sure which would have been harder to do. Through watching the documentary, I was given the visuals of the injustices that women were and are subjected to even today. In order to watch the documentary I had to do it in two sittings because it was too hard of a topic to subject myself to the pain that the women were enduring for four straight hours. During the breaks that I took, I went into my kitchen to find my flat mates sitting at the kitchen table and I did in fact try to explain what the documentary was about, but I don’t think I was effective in my description. Sitting here actually thinking about the documentary and how I would explain it to my mother if I were to tell her about it I would most likely start by saying that Half the Sky is a story about hope. In every aspect of the documentary, you find women and girls hoping to find a better life or hoping to forget the lives they had before they were saved. Half the Sky recounts the injustices that women are subjected to in developing nations, many of which are a way of life for these women. Things like rape, and female genital castration are two very gruesome examples and yet they are seen as things that just happen in these nations. It is hard to think of the documentary without feeling angry because of the way that men treat women. In the developing world women are seen as objects instead of people. In India, women get married and then their husbands sell them to brothels and collect the money that they make from servicing customers.

When we think about the history of the United States and the problems that women faced including fighting for the right to vote, it is interesting to think about what those women would feel if they knew about those problems now. I also think it is bewildering that we know about these issues and yet there is not much that has been done to correct the problems. The people that advocate for the issues are the ones that have faced those issues in their lives. The person that I was stricken by the most from watching the documentary was the woman who was extracting children out of brothels in Cambodia. There were two things going through my mind when I was watching the documentary; I kept thinking that this woman reminded me of my mother because they are both strong women that are willing to help anyone in need. I admired the woman in Cambodia because she was in the same position as the girls that she was rescuing from the brothels and she was the one going to the brothels to rescue the girls. She would go into territories that were extremely dangerous and risk her life in order to make the life of another girl better. The other thing that I kept thinking about while watching the documentary was what if my sister was in a predicament like this? I wouldn’t be able to sit by and let something like that happen to her and it makes me wonder how anyone really thinks any of the actions that are taking place are acceptable.

I remember when watching the segment in the documentary about the sex trafficking of young girls in Cambodia and I was horrified that something like this could actually be capable, that parents were okay with selling their daughters into prostitution and especially at ages as young as two or three. The woman in Cambodia, I believe her name was Samalimom, is extremely brave for not only risking her own life to save the girls, but also willing to provide education for them. This woman is an example of what everyone should do when they see injustice; although she may exert fear, she is strong. She advocates for this cause not only because she was subject to it, but also because she doesn’t want anyone to have to continue to face the hardships that those girls are subject to. In the documentary there was a point where they went to a brothel in order to extract a girl and they had to leave because of the military forces that were coming to prevent girls from leaving the brothel. The fear from a force like that would deter anyone from wanting to complete a task such as that and yet this woman continues to do it because of how passionate she is for the survival of girls and the treatment that they endure. When in the field Samalimom wears a hat and sunglasses in order to try to mask her appearance and yet people know who she is because of the work that she does. It makes me wonder if she fears for her life when she goes home because someone might try to get back at her for “stealing” their “property”.

Living here in London, it’s hard to think of a particular issue described in the book because I don’t see many of those issues occurring. The way that I imagine London is in the same context with New York City, it is a metropolis in which people come to live in order to have better opportunities than they had in the past. One issue that I can think of that might happen here in England would be gender-based violence. Now, this may be due to the region that people emigrated from or it may just be a part of society. The reason I say this is that for many cultures and throughout history, women were perceived more often as objects as they were people. Objects that were meant to take care of the man of the house, doing all of his cooking, cleaning and taking care of his offspring. This topic was introduced in the documentary through threats and physical abuse. This topic is something that is prevalent throughout the entire world and manifests in a variety of ways. Physical and verbal abuse are something that I can relate to in a personal sense as my mother was a victim of both and although I will not go into detail about it, I can say that it is something that no one should have to endure in their lives.

There are two different senses in which an individual in my field of study might be able to have a positive contribution to gender based violence (GBV). As a student, simply spreading the word about it to my peers and through social networks would go a long way as it would show the problems that one might face if found in a position of GBV. Talking from the sense of a marketing perspective, spreading the word takes on a whole different meaning as advertisements could be created to reach entire communities. In order to prevent a problem from happening, people need to know that it is happening in the first place. The first step in any problem is recognizing that there is one. It is important to increase the scope of the problem and its impact, services should be improved to those who have been involved in gender-based violence and prevention methods should be strengthened in order to make the largest impact on the problem at hand.

TL11: “Holding Up Half the Sky” by Danielle Tomlinson Normandy, France

“Young people graduate from university without understanding of poverty at home or abroad.” (Kristof, WuDunn) Half the Sky tells the stories of women and girls alike around the world who suffer from issues such as lack of education, sex trafficking, lack of proper healthcare and gender based violence. A mother in Somaliland faces death upon conception. A girl in India faces the commercial sex trade. A girl in Vietnam tries to use her education as mobility.  And a girl in Sierra Leone who was raped realizes that gender based violence is ingrained in her culture. The stories of these women and girls convey a very real reality that often we are not exposed to. Women and girls face these acts of violence, discrimination and violations each day. Half the Sky embodies these tragedies and shows that in the face of adversity many of these women rise above. “Of all the issues… Gender-based violence is the most widespread. Sure enough, in a country like Sierra Leone, it’s very extreme; it’s a past conflict situation but rape and domestic abuse happen everywhere. They really are one of the most ubiquitous forms of gender based oppression” (Kristof, WuDunn) In Half the Sky the authors talk about a woman named Amie Kandeh who has been abused by her husband, threatened on a daily basis. What was interesting to note was that this woman though abused by her husband was able to help other women with their crises. Gender based violence encompasses a number of violations perpetrated to one gender specifically, in the case of Half the Sky, the gender targeted is women. The problem with gender based violence is that it has now become institutionalised in many countries across the globe. And so in a post conflict Sierra Leone, a husband abusing his wife was not out of the norm. Often girls and women were raped and abused sexually as a form of violence not only to suppress themselves but their male counterparts with whom they were associated with. These women were targeted and abused not only physically and sexually but mentally. Often perceiving themselves as inferior and living in fear of what could happen. The women and organizations in Half the Sky seek to show now only the injustices dealt to women across the globe, but the capabilities women have but are never often explored. “Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity”(Kristof, WuDunn) It is an opportunity to empower girls and women to reach their full capabilities; moreover, to contribute to revolutionizing the mindset of girls and women across the globe by bringing to lights these violations and bring about a social change where girls and women are viewed as equal to their male counterparts. Thus they should be endowed the same resources and protections, if not more given the history of gender based violence. While I was reading Half the Sky, I kept thinking about how important it was not only to engage the girls and women in various societies but also the boys and men as well. If we teach our boys to treat their girl friends the same as their boy friends then we have accomplished something. “Sex trafficking and mass rape should no more be seen as a women’s issue than slavery was a black issue or the Holocaust was a Jewish issue.” (Kristof, WuDunn) The violations perpetrated against women are not solely exclusive to women. In certain societies, these violations also extend to their male counterparts but because the perception of the male is different, it is not often talked about or addressed. And so the victimization of people as a whole continues. “Cultural barriers can be overcome relatively swiftly where there is political will to do so” (Kristof, WuDunn) Gender Based violence won’t be solved very easily it will take time and the changing of not only hearts and minds but institutions and societies alike. Whether it be a postwar country or even our own backyard: our perceptions, perspective and preconceived notions of how our society is and how the world at large is, often contributes to these problems. And so keeping with our global responsibility and our duty as citizens of the global community. It is our duty to recognize these injustices and to target them in our own households and communities. It is our responsibility to help contribute to the change of mindset in the perception of women at home and abroad. And once, we have revolutionized our own outlook, we can then take this to a global level by helping others in the global community to change their outlook in their society.

Travel Log 11: “Holding Up Half the Sky” By Taylor Chelo. Perugia, Italy

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half The Sky, is an anthology of stories from the true lives of oppressed women from around the world. Although this collection of stories shed light on the devastating, misogynistic hardships that women face worldwide, they also highlight the strength and courage these women had to make a change and create a brighter future for other females undergoing similar challenges. After reading a short synopsis of this book prior to reading, I was nervous that I would not be able to finish reading due to being emotionally taken back by the mistreatment of such innocent women. However, Kristof and WuDunn did a remarkable job of not only educating their readers about the severity of gender inequality around the globe, but also inspiring their readers to take action as women like Mukhtar have toward creating more opportunities for women.

Mukhtar was a young woman from Punjab, a state bordering Pakistan that is considered the heart of India’s Sikh community. Mukhtar’s younger brother, Shakur, was kidnapped by the Mastoi, an upper-caste clan, and gang-raped. The tribal community held a meeting regarding the crime, a crime that the Mastoi tried to cover up by blaming Shakur for raping a local woman. As a punishment for Shakur’s supposed crime, the clan gang-raped Mukhtar in a building next door that was somewhat exposed to the public. She was overcome with humiliation, humiliation that drove her to resort to suicide —  “the expected way for a woman to cleanse herself and her family of the shame” (Kristof 70). Luckily, though, Mukhtar intervened and prevented her from going to such lengths. As time progressed, Mukhtar’s humiliation turned into rage, a rage that drove her to be courageous and report the rape to the police. The police captured those of the Mastoi clan, and gave Mukhtar $8,300 in compensation. Although Mukhtar never received an education herself, she knew that schools are what her village needed most. Thus, she invested her newly acquired wealth into the field of education by starting her own schools and eventually her own aid groups especially made for women.

Mukhtar’s story impacted me the most in this book, not only because she channeled such negative emotion into positive action, but also because she, like me, has a passion for changing the lives of children through education. I have wanted to become a teacher ever since I was a little girl. I used to “play school” on the weekends with my younger siblings by assuming the role as teacher in my kitchen while my sister and brother were my students. I have always loved school and all the opportunities education has to offer, and I wanted to make my dream occupation a reality.

However, when it came time to apply for colleges and choose a field of study, many family and friends tried to deter me away from this path. They would constantly say how little the pay is and how limited job openings can be. Mukhtar also received negative reactions from local Pakistanis about her ambitions to become an educator: “Some upper-class Pakistanis, while originally sympathetic to Mukhtar, scorned her as an uneducated peasant….they urged [Nicholas and Sheryl] to focus not on Mukhtar but on the work of doctors and lawyers in the cities” (Kristof 76). Many loved ones tried to push me toward the medical and law fields, as well, but I knew in my heart of hearts that those professions were not in the cards for me. So, like Mukhtar, I let the negative feedback fuel my ambitions of becoming the best educator I could be. Kristof explains how “[Mukhtar] spoke passionately of her belief in the redemptive quality of education, in her hope that men and women in the villages could live together in harmony if only they had an education” (Kristof 72). Mukhtar and I both knew that this was our purpose, and we did not let anyone tell us otherwise. God blessed us both with the gift of communicating well with children and helping them find their purpose in this life by giving them the education they deserve.

The topic of education that was touched upon in Mukhtar’s story and throughout the book is an essential solution to many of our world’s most pressing issues. Many people fail to realize that children do not simply learn core subjects in school. They also learn how to be more responsible citizens in the local, national, and global community. It’s not just the students learning from the teacher, either; education works vice versa, as well. During my internship here in Perugia at a local elementary school, for instance, I not only teach the


Giovanni Cena Scuola Elementare in Perugia, Italy

children the English language, but they also teach me the Italian language. Kristof explains how Mukhtar also shared this two-way learning experience with her students: “Mukhtar had enrolled in her own school, sitting beside the littlest girls and learning to read and write with them” (Kristof 72). The multifaceted nature of education and the positive influence it has on the future generation is extraordinary. It is a universal domino effect that is extremely underrated in today’s society just as the occupation of an educator is — an occupation that, mind you, is female-dominated.

I hope to reverse this curse through my current elementary education internship at Giovanni Cena Scuola Elementare in Perugia. Prior to leaving Quinnipiac and concluding my past Fall semester, I was approached by Dean Larkins-Strathy, the dean of the School of Education. Because I am the first student from the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

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Celebrating “Carnivale” with my fifth grade students.

Program to study abroad in Perugia, Italy, she has asked me to give a presentation regarding my internship experience abroad upon my return. By doing this, I can present MAT students like myself a practical way they can take their passion for teaching beyond America’s borders. I will be sure to incorporate Mukhtar’s story into my presentation so the future educators of the MAT Program can see how far their passion can take them. Women hold up half the sky, and so do educators.

Works Cited

Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity

for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.

Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” Reaction Paper. By Zelia Pantani. Antibes, France

I have a lot of favorite TV shows, one of which is the beloved 10 season long “One Tree Hill”.  I must have watched this series twice through within a period of six months—which is borderline pathetic—but there were so many relatable topics. The show began with the characters in high school, dealing with those daily struggles of fitting in with your community, maintaining healthy relationships, family problems and finding yourself, carrying out until the cast is well into their adult lives and new challenges. Out of this show my favorite character, Brooke Davis, always played the emotionally weak-yet-strong cheerleader who struggled to keep a good relationship with her controlling mother. In real life, Brooke Davis is played by Sophia Bush who is an actor, singer and amongst all: a feminist activist. She advocates on behalf of the women that can’t, won’t and that don’t so that we are all entitled to an equal lifestyle in a professional or private setting. One of my favorite attributes about her style, is the show people being a feministic doesn’t mean you suddenly hate men or stop shaving your armpits to defy society, it means you fight for the rights that are stripped of women—in any condition.

In my opinion the documentary “Holding up Half the Sky” aims to bring to attention the appalling conditions that some women are subjected to on a daily basis by the men in their communities. Even bigger than calling to attention the conditions that these women are exposed to, the main objective of this documentary is to highlight that something that affects one member of a society in turn affects the entire society, race and community. When the research began the authors found that millions of girls were missing in China, without a single question raised, but as time went on China wasn’t the only place these incidents were happening. There are so many unknown cases never brought to attention, no matter how severe because that is simply how the culture has evolved and operates. The most troubling factor about that though is women make up HALF of the community, culture and world; without women the human race is physically unable to survive. The purpose of “Holding up Half the Sky” is to to address the problem stated within the documentary itself: “Women’s rights are the unfished business of the 21st century”.

Over the course of this entire film, it became harder to watch, as the stories never seemed to cease. However, there was one story that I found myself feeling enraged rather than heartbroken (like the rest). A girl, in her early teens, had been raped by her “uncle”, who also happened to be a pastor. When she told her parents, they wanted to press charges—to which she was embarrassed. This is what immediately struck me; that she would be embarrassed to incarcerate her perpetrator for fear of what the others in the town could say regarding her character. In that moment I realized a few things: how dependent we are upon the support from our communities, the sub-ordinance that women are subjected to by men, the lack of human rights in certain communities and most importantly that this sentiment can be felt by those affected by this act whether in poverty stricken nations or successfully established nations.

As the scene played out, through her embarrassment, the family pressed charges and arrested the pastor. At that moment viewers could visually see the smile on her face and the feeling of relief that had passed over her. Despite feeling alone and embarrassed, taking action to convict this man and make him pay for his crimes, allowed her to realize some degree of her worth as a person and in the community that she had that support. My favorite quote from the film was Meg Ryan’s statement “…they heal as a community and feel pain as a community… it’s how they get through it”. This quote is crucial to the name of the documentary itself and the problem with these women’s rights. You can not heal as half a community or feel pain as a half a community; you can’t leave women behind since they are just as important as the men are.

Throughout the film I saw an underlying concept of the key to education. Half of the women were uneducated, and among the ones that were they went to great lengths in order to obtain this education. One young woman rode her bike 17 miles every day, just in order to learn. One little girl, was told day in and day out that she was essentially useless as a family member by both of her parents. Not until she began educating herself could they see her worth and tell her she was loved within the family. This put into perspective for me, imagining a life where I wasn’t able to get an education due to lack of resources, but my worth was based upon my level of education—talk about reaching for the stars! In my long term future, I’d like to work with companies to provide technological solutions to their various problems in terms of implementing and updating systems. Perhaps a solution could be found to implement a source for these girls to obtain an education through the use of an information system. Or at the very least, provide some central source of technology that girls, young women, and women are all able to use in order to help give them a fighting chance in the realm of learning.

TL 11 “Holding Up Half the Sky” by Kaitlyn Shortell- Paris, France

I can confidently say Half the Sky was one of the most gut-wrenching, yet informative documentaries I have ever seen in my life. If I were to try and discuss this with family and friends, I feel like the only thing I would be able to say is that it is just a movie that everyone should see. I would tell them that it is a film that openly discussed the challenges that women and girls face, that have been completely stifled for generations, the even call it “the moral challenge of this century”. The overall message that I would say comes from Half the Sky, is that we need to look at society as a whole and what we can do to engage, educate, and motivate people to make a difference. This includes women and their role, across the globe, and unfortunately there is a large percentage of women who are oppressed in so many different ways. Underlying this message, I think there is a message, reminding us how important it is to inform ourselves of things that are going on around us that we don’t always “see”. I don’t know if there is one story that impacted me more than another, on some level I felt I connected with them all just in the simple fact that I am a woman too. But at the same time, any man should feel he same connection to an extent because all of these women are people, just like they are. For me, I think the story that impacted me the most personally, was the topic of Intergenerational Prostitution. If I think about how important my family has been in encouraging me to strive to do the best that I can to get where I am today academically and personally, I realize how essential their support was. In this segment, one of the moms was actually arguing with the woman who started the school there, saying she did not want her daughter to go to school. I cannot imagine my own mother keeping me from getting a primary education. This was essentially leaving her daughter with no other option but to continue in her footsteps into prostitution because that is all this little girl would know. It was a very intense conversation, and it was crazy to see this woman advocating for this young girl to her own mother. Luckily, America Ferrera, Nicholas Kristof, and the woman who owned the school were able to convince the mother. But, not to long after, the mother said they were moving away to live with her father, and she would be pulling her daughter from the school. It was almost guaranteed she would end up in prostitution like the other women in her family, but the little girl seemed to have not much of a reaction. In the second part of the movie, at the Edna Adan hospital we learned about how the hospital came to be and the work that Edna did there. Her mission was to teach enough midwives how to practice, so that there was at least one in every surrounding village, to increase the maternal mortality rate. I think this particular story impacted me, because I felt of all the stories I heard, this was the one that I could actually make a positive contribution in with my field of study in Health Science, and my career path. There is an organization that has had my attention for years, called Doctors without Borders. They travel to countries mostly in Africa who are lacking in medical attention. It has always been a dream of mine to go and work with this organization after I graduate for a year or two. I don’t know if it’s the most practical, but if I could go to this hospital and help educate women to be midwives I would be pretty happy to be part of changing those statistics.

Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” By Alexandra Borges. Cardiff, Wales.

Wow, I mean what can I say? I was absolutely blown away with the stories presented in this documentary. I mean I haven’t been ignorant to any of the areas in which “Holding up Half the Sky” touches, but I think I didn’t fully realize the severity of female targeting in each. It was very eye opening.

I think the best way to convey the overall message of the stories presented would be explaining that if you support the growth and education of women, you support the world. I think often women of our country take for granted the rights we have and focus more on the nitty-gritty things we still have to overcome. Women in 1st world countries have come a long way and most of us reap the benefits of our predecessors. These women in the documentary that represent the women of their respective developing countries, have worked hard to get where they are and will have to worker even harder, to try to catch up to the changes that we women of the 1st world countries don’t even think about.

Unified as a gender and way of living, it only seems fair to encourage and support these women and help in the journey to bettering the lives of women in their own countries. Honestly, if I had half the courage, bravery, and strength these women have it would be a blessing. The amount of hardships that they have overcome and horrendous acts done to them and they continue to live and smile, is a miracle. Women are the bringer of life to this world no matter what anyone says, the world survives and grows on the backs of women all over the globe.

I think the story that impacted me the most was Nhi’s. Here is the young girl juggling  school life, home life, and work life all at once. She is a determined young girl that fights for the sake of her education regardless of obstacles she faces. She’s the breadwinner of the household. Her father,who refuses to find another occupation even though it brings in no income,  forces his daughter to sell lottery tickets; should she not meet his quota he beats her. Yet she perseveres in the classroom always coming 1st in the class and even goes far as to attend tutoring, which she pays for one her own with what money she saves. Her daily life consists from going to school then working until late, then comes home (depending if she’s reached quota is beaten), cooks dinner, schools her little brother, and does the same thing the following day.

She is absolutely amazing and incredibly strong to not only support her family at her age, but to be able to continue living her life as accomplished as she has regardless of the challenges and pressure. She’s an open book, her emotions displayed for all to see, yet refuses to let it betray or gain the advantage over her. From what one can tell, she knows the hand that she’s been dealt and she knows what fights she can and cannot win. She realizes that going to school to be educated is already a huge step, that it’s going to be difficult to reach her end goal, but for now can only take baby steps. Even if she’s frustrated, she continues to walk down the path that she has laid down for herself. However, there is that sense that although she’s accomplished this much that her father’s word still lies heavily on deciding her life. You can see this when she refuses to speak of homelife aside from what is already known by outsiders, and never directly says anything to bring attention to her father. She’s very cautious around him and maintains her distance when possible.

Yet, despite the all this she continues to excel in her studies. I think that’s what really draws me in, in spite of the abuse she pushes herself to do even better in school, to becomes educated. As someone in the documentary said, “School is her safe haven and so she puts her all into it.” Perhaps, this is to escape reality or maybe a way make a future for herself in order to be able to physically escape her father for good, it could be a little of both.

To be honest her story hits home with me on a personal level, granted not as extreme because I live in a society where I have a right to education, but still there are aspects of myself reflected in her story, especially with the relationship between her and her father. So, when her story came up in “Holding Up Half the Sky”, I was surprised, but also I reflected on my past. It was a little hard to actually think back with an objective view. However, I think it was really necessary and that it helped me realize the impact education has had on my life, especially with how it has shaped the person I am today.

I think a lot of the issues in “Holding Up Half the Sky”, can be relayed back to the lack of healthcare freedom for women. This is especially seen in the stories related to rape, child birth/death, FGM, and malnutrition. The horrors and downright abuse of these women’s rights and bodies absolutely astounds me, it’s atrocious. However, regardless of the atrocities, the documentary doesn’t hold back. I like that because it exposes the truth of things in a cut clean way. Despite the horrors we were able to stay along with the women throughout each ordeal and that gives perspective and insight that would have otherwise been lost. The audience feels the pain, the anger, the sadness, the bitterness, the hope, the despair when hope is snatched away, the fear, the community; we feel everything alongside these women. And if you’re a woman as well, these emotions and feelings are felt on a deeper and soulful level, one that not even we women can explain. Things like these should not be censored, people need to know what really goes on in the world. Learning what needs to change and what these women really need, put into perspective the things we need to do in order to help and contribute. No women, in 1st world countries or developing world alike, should go through what any of these women within this documentary have gone and go through on the daily.

Back home I’m a Biomedical Science major on a Pre Med track. My ultimate goal is to become a doctor (specialized in Cardiology, a doctor nonetheless). Honestly, I can’t count the number of times I specifically told my mother that I want to participate in doctors without borders. Regardless of my specialty, you learn the basics first and then specialized anyway, so anything that I can do, even in the smallest way for these women, I will try my hardest to accomplish. A lot of people in the medical field get more and more worried about doctors without borders because of the rising risk, but I continuously aspire to be like those who continue to risk their lives despite the risk and distance, to help those in need. We need more people like these, we need to do something for this plagued world.

Support women, and you support the world.


Institute for Cultural Diplomacy


Travel Log 11 “Holding up Half the Sky” by Doug Beebe. London, UK

“Half the Sky” is probably one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. It had the powerful to bring up so many emotions all at once to the point in which I had no idea how to feel or what to feel. I was so inspired to try and help; yet so depressed and saddened by the fact that these types of actions happen still, even in the 21st century. One of my friends had mentioned to me before I watched the documentary that she could only watch it in small segments because of how emotional it made her. Without knowing much context about the documentary, I thought she was crazy, that I wouldn’t be as emotional as her, but I was wrong. This documentary has to power to make you think and become emotionally invested in the lives of the girls you are seeing on the screen. It is so difficult to pick a part out of this documentary that I connected with the most or the part that moved me the most because all of them were equally as upsetting. As I watched the documentary the only thing I could think of were my family back home: my younger sister and all of my cousins, my mom and all of her sisters. It made the situation on the screen so much more real because I thought about it in the context of, ‘what is that was my sister or cousin or best friend?’ This type of thinking is what made this documentary so difficult to watch.

The word ‘destroy’ was used many times throughout “Half the Sky” and was a world that made me extremely uncomfortable sometimes. In the world I know, destroy is used in a context of “I destroyed that test” or “we are going to destroy this building to build a new one,” not in the context of “this ten year old girls life was destroyed by the men who owned the brothel she was kept at” or “this girl cant get an education because her parents do see her as an actual child.” To describe a ten-year-old girl as destroyed is heart breaking. Children should not be considered destroyed, they should be considered kids who always have a smile on their face because the have nothing to worry about besides living their life and being loved.

There were so many parts of this documentary that really affected me and upset me a lot just because of the sheer hell that girls are put through throughout their entire lives. The story of Fulumatu, the brave girl who stood up for herself against her uncle that had raped her, was truly infuriating and a part of this documentary that really did not sit well with me at all. The part that frustrated me the most was how even after standing up for herself, she is still considered unworthy and shameful to her family. I was really upset by the fact that she just went through such a traumatic time in her life yet she is given absolutely zero support or love from her family because she was raped. This isn’t something that happens once-in-a-blue-moon, but something that happens regularly. The craziest part for me is that a man can completely destroy a girl’s life and have her banished from her family, school, and the happiness she once held by forcing himself on her for his own personal pleasure. I relate this back to how loved I am, and how loved all of my family is and it is truly confusing to me how it is the complete opposite for other families around the world.

I could go on and on about all of the different parts of this documentary that broke my heart and then truly inspired me, but that would just keep reiterating my point about how disgusting the world can be but also how important to listen to these girls stories and hear how powerful and strong they are. This documentary has made me think a lot about my own life and my future and how I how I should appreciate the life that I lead and not complain about little things, because there are people who have it so much worse than me, especially these little girls. The girls who lived with Sumaly Mam really touched me. The fact that they were abused so incredibly much as children and were destroyed but still push through and strive to help girls just like them, to comfort them and make them feel like they are safe just like they were treated when they were saved, and to educate people about what was done to them in hopes that they can help stop more girls lives from being destroyed too is truly inspiring to me. These girls really made me want to help, to get involved in any way I possibly can, because the only thing I can think of when I watch these girls talk about their stories is, “what if that was my sister?”

Travel Log 11 “Holding up Half the Sky” by Kristen Sullivan. Barcelona, Spain

Watching the video “Half the Sky” was absolutely incredible. I am shocked that I had never heard of this documentary before because of how heartbreaking and touching it was. It had a huge impact on me especially as a woman, but I think that it would be an amazing thing for everyone to see. I encouraged my roommates and my family to watch it. The slogan of the video, “turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide” is the central point and focuses on the vital role of women. If we look back in history, there is a common theme of women always being the “problem”, doing the “wrong thing”, or being considered as less important. Women are often used for their bodies, lacked education, and did not have equal rights. The documentary specifically focuses on sex as a huge issue for women. Their bodies are mistreated through sex trafficking, gentile mutilation, sexual violence, and lack of protection from HIV and AIDs. Throughout this movie, my jaw dropped as they travelled and the mistreatment of women continued to worsen.

Although the movie honed in on the horrible acts being done to women, it also focused on the importance of empowering women to overcome their oppression. In the middle of all of the cruelty, there were bright spots of powerful women leaders who tried to do small things to improve their quality of living. They look on leadership roles to display that they can be empowered and try to change their situation a little bit at a time. Watching these women stand up as leaders and displaying their pride in being women became a domino effect and helped to empower other young women. The incredible female leaders serve as amazing role models for the rest of the community.

All of the stories were extremely difficult to listen to. It makes me feel so blessed to have grown up where I did, but hearing their stories hurt my heart. One of the stories that stuck with me was Showma from India. She spoke of her experience of forced prostitution and how she had to “entertain clients even when she was extremely sick.” On average, she had to entertain 20 to 30 clients a day and was completely isolated from the other girls in her situation. She said the guards would hold guns and knives to her throat if she didn’t do what they wanted. The worst part of the story was the fact that she called herself disposable. There were so many girls in her situation that if she didn’t comply with their rules, they would not think twice about killing her because they had so many women. Thankfully, she was rescued and is now a mother. Rather than being upset with her situation, she utilized it as an empowering experience and has great hope for her daughter’s future. She serves as an incredible role model for not only her daughter, but for other women in her community. Showma’s life as a young women is completely different than mine or anyone I know. She had to grow up so fast and her innocence was stripped from her. She had to experience the harsh and darkest realities of the world at a young age and lived in basically hell on earth. I can’t imagine because treated that way and experiencing that amount of violence and sexual mistreatment.

Another part of the documentary discussed a hospital in Somaliland. My major is Physical Therapy and all of my classes are based around science, medicine, and health care. Last semester, I took Bioethics which focuses on bioethical issues in our world today. Throughout all of my studies I have never seen such horrible healthcare issues like that shown in the video. In the hospital in Somaliland they let pregnant women die that would easily be cured in the United States and other places in the world. Their medical attention to these women was horrific. Women should have equal health care rights and the hospitals should do everything in their power to save people regardless of gender. This part of the video disgusted me. Although this part was not an issue with physical therapy, as a physical therapist I would love to travel to different parts of the world and ensure that proper medical care, including physical therapy, was provided. My advisor at Quinnipiac is taking this semester to go to Guatemala to set up physical therapy clinics in these types of areas and I would love to get involved in that. If everyone helps even a little bit, it can make a huge difference in the lives of women, and people in general, around the world.