Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
(Vintage; Reprint edition, June 1, 2010, $15.95, 320pps)
Usha Narayane is a testament to the transformative power of education. She is also one of the heroic women that New York Times’ journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn profile in their book Half the Sky.
Narayane grew up in the slums of India. Her poor, but forward thinking parents sacrificed and saved in order to afford her a college education. Primed for a competitive job in the hotel industry, Narayane took a trip back to the village where she grew up. It was a trip that changed the trajectory of her life and forever altered the lives of her neighbors.
Narayane’s hometown had been seized by a ruthless gang leader, Akku Yadav, and his following. The group ruled the town with an iron fist, robbing the villagers and silencing dissenters with threats of rape and murder. He often carried out his threats in a grotesque and public manner, strengthening the citizens’ resolve to stay quiet for their own protection and for the safety of their families.
Education had empowered Narayane, who could not passively watch one man terrorize everyone that she loved. Amidst threats of death, rape, and acid burns, Narayane held her ground and stood up against victimization. Her act inspired the rest of the community to band together and confront their villain. By drawing attention to the plight of women in the lower caste, Narayane and her friends were able to outsmart a corrupt legal system and bring justice to the slums. Moreover, she chose to stay in her village and use her education to teach her neighbors about business, entrepreneurial skills, self-empowerment and gender equality.
Through stories like Narayane’s, Kristof and Wu Dunn call attention to the importance of feminism and the need for vast social changes. They write with a mix of concrete facts and compelling narratives, giving each cause a face as well as quantitative support. The book covers the issues of gender equality, cultural norms, sexual violence, stigmatization, education and empowerment. As a reader, I was left with a compelling desire to join the fight for social justice. Clever journalists that they are, Kristof and Wu Dunn provided me with the tools to contribute to change in the last chapter and the appendix.
Half the Sky is a must read book. Kristof and Wu Dunn have accomplished the improbably and turned a book about policy and complex, wide ranging issues into a page turner. I read the book cover to cover in four days, stopping regretfully for food and sleep breaks. Never before has a book impacted me so much.
Kristof and Wu Dunn are exceptional story tellers who practice what they write in their day to day lives. They are not humanitarian aid zealots who jump on any bandwagon that promises to end with world peace. They are intelligent, critical people who believe that one person can change the world if he or she has the drive and the knowhow. The international community could use more people like them. This book and consequent “how to” guide serves as a great start.
- Haley Petersen