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Review: Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky

I read the nonfiction work Half the Sky a couple of years ago as a part of a summer reading assignment. Its content blew my mind. Husband and wife team of journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn touch on the many injustices faced by women internationally, a subject I was only briefly aware of prior to reading. 

Raised in a safe community with trustworthy parents and adults surrounding me, I haven’t personally experienced many of the situations and lifestyles that the authors detail in the novel. However, I feel that it is important for everyone to learn about the oppression that many women worldwide experience. Awareness allows us to work together and end these injustices. 

What I Loved

My favorite aspects of the book were the nature in which the authors gathered information and the structure of the writing. Kristof and WuDunn not only did extensive literary research on the topics they investigated, but they actually traveled to several third world countries and interacted with the women there. The book is a series of interwoven essays and anecdotes that discuss the authors’ observations during their travels. It also highlights the personal stories that they gathered from the women they spoke to. In my opinion, the first-person narrative and anecdotal evidence were what made this book so stimulating and captivating.

Half the Sky is divided into three main parts. The first third of the book focuses on sexual abuses faced by women around the globe. Then, the second third focuses on childbirth and family planning. Finally, the last third is all about education, micro-businesses, and the actions readers can take to help. Each section is filled with small anecdotes, commentary, and additional research that captivate readers as they make their way through the book. 

The Book’s First Part: Human Trafficking

In the first third of the book, readers are taken to a small village in Cambodia. Here, the harrowing realities of human trafficking are unveiled. I was shocked and heartbroken to hear that in this part of the world (and in several other countries), it is commonplace for girls as young as eight or nine years old to be captured and traded. These girls are stuck in a very abusive environment for a large portion of their lives. They must obey their master’s commands and remain completely shut away from their families and the rest of society.

For many of these women, the contraction of HIV/AIDS is common and equivalent to a death sentence. For others, getting kicked out after youthfulness fades is customary. They are then left to fend for themselves in society. This is an incredibly difficult task given that they have been taken far from their families and the communities they grew up in. To make matters worse, they usually have minimal education since they were captured at such a young age.

Kristof and WuDunn interviewed several young girls, and their stories are included. These personal anecdotes are an absolute must-read and are so incredibly emotional and intriguing. In this section, I also loved learning about organizations that help save the lives of women who have been trafficked through monetary, educational, and other forms of support.

The Second Part of the Book: Limited Medical Access

In the second part, the lack of doctors and medical personnel in third world countries is highlighted. One anecdote that stood out to me was that of a woman from Cameroon who was unable to give birth due to a blocked cervix. The birthing attendant decided that sitting on the woman’s stomach and jumping up and down would help. This ruptured the woman’s uterus, causing more problems. Living in the United States, many of us trust our health care providers and receive quality care from trained professionals. It was mind-opening to learn about the consequences of a lack of education. This section of the book taught me many important lessons about the power and value of humanity.

The Final Section: Micro-Businesses

The final section of the book was, in my opinion, the most optimistic. I learned about the concept of micro-businesses. Within these, women are given a small amount of money from a donor that they then use as an investment to start their own business. They are very powerful because they allow women to rebuild their lives and feel empowered after hard experiences such as trafficking and childbirth issues. Additionally, organizations that are offering resources for women are mentioned and several actions readers can take are detailed.

Final thoughts

Half the Sky was overall a very informative and thought-provoking read. This book really helps garner a better understanding of the oppression and injustices that some women around the world experience on a day-to-day basis. I highly recommend that everyone read this at some point in their life. If you are interested in learning more and/or taking action, visit http://www.halftheskymovement.org/.

To learn more about Human Trafficking click here. If you or someone that you know is a victim of human trafficking, call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.

Shruti Sathish

Shruti is a blogging intern for GirlSpring. She is from Madison, Wisconsin, and will be attending the University of Richmond this fall on a full-ride merit scholarship!

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