Book review: Half the Sky

I am a massive fan of New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, a figure I deeply respect for his humanitarian efforts and high quality journalistic work. In his articles, he usually digs his heels deep into topics, such as poverty, global health and human rights, which are endemic and ongoing problems often underreported by mainstream media.

As a follower of Kristof on Twitter, when he tweeted about his book “Half the Sky” a few months back and I immediately jumped on it, only to find it a highly compelling book narrated mainly from his and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn’s, personal experiences and interviews they conducted.

“Half the Sky” is a book documenting the insufferable struggles of women with a very clear aim of encouraging the empowerment of women and their rights. Some of the stories recounted are absolutely heart wrenching and difficult to read.

One such example would be Simeesh Segaye, 21, from rural Ethiopia, who suffered from fistula, a condition where the tissues between the baby’s head and the woman’s pelvis lost circulation causing them to rot away, as a result of obstructed labor for more than four days. Not only did Segaye lose her baby, she was ostracized by her husband, in-laws and fellow villagers for her incontinences, a by-product of fistula, leaving her smelling like waste most of the time. For the subsequent two years, she laid permanently curled up in a discarded hut, trying to starve herself to death.

Below is a picture of how she looked like when she was rescued:
As a woman myself, it is almost impossible for me to imagine getting married at 12 years old, forced into prostitution or having to give birth for more than 72 hours. But Segaye’s story clearly highlights the importance of having better maternal health in third world countries, an area often overlooked by aid agencies and governments, as mentioned in “Half the Sky.”

Reading this book is thus a reality check which raised greater awareness of women for me. Readers could sense the depth and breadth of research and interviews done by both authors through the years. The book documents extensive first-hand stories of women in Asia, the Middle East and Africa and also them visiting areas particularly in rural and far-fetched villagers where practices remain archaic and steeped in traditional cultural beliefs.

Moreover, rarely have I read a book like “Half the Sky” that deals with third world issues in a culturally sensitive manner, recognizing the importance of localizing aid efforts to make it effective. Tostan is one of such organization mentioned in the book that hires mainly local staff in Sengal who can speak Wolof, the local language, to educate and share with women communities about the dangers of female genital cutting, a practice common amongst Muslims in Africa.

On top of Tostan, the book also mentions many NGOs, groups and individuals which advocates for women’s causes which I greatly appreciate because by naming these organizations, it not only recognizes their undulating spirit but also teaches readers like me new information.

I was definitely inspired after completing the novel that motivated me to do my (wee) part for fellow women. As such, I have decided to sign up as a member of Kiva, an organization that connects lenders to borrowers. These microloans, as how it is commonly know, are very small in amount, from as little as US$25, which do make a difference to those who are in need, empowering them with the ability to take control of their finances and lives.

(For more detailed information about microlending, click here to read how Kiva explains it)

My own Kiva portfolio consists mainly of a loan to this grocery store lady in Cambodia:

This is only my first baby step into microlending but I am certainly looking forward to loaning more funds to other people from different parts of the world in the coming weeks.

Does women issues or human rights issues interest you? This book will certainly tickle your interest.

If you are interested to also make a contribution to Kiva, click the banner below!

Kiva - loans that change lives


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