Books / Human Rights / Inspiration

Holding up half the sky…

Cover of "Half the Sky: Turning Oppressio...

Cover via Amazon

Did you know that Rwanda is the first country where women outnumbered men in parliament? (It has even bested Sweden.)

Or that, sweatshops hiring women was among the reasons why China’s economy grew so rapidly?

I have just completed reading the book, ‘Half the Sky’ by Pulitzer-winning journalists, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Since the wide-release of the book this year, Nicholas was invited to Oprah, Sheryl to TEDGlobal and there have been films made of the book.

Why the popularity? Because, both Nicholas and Sheryl exposed a broad range of intertwined issues inflicting girls and women worldwide in a comprehensive way. And, the best part is, they were sincere. They did not hype up the situation. They just reported it as it is. They dug up information through their experience journeying through those countries. They obtained personal stories from victims, and social entrepreneurs who stood up tall despite the oppression. They interviewed Samaritans and volunteers. They provided solutions on how we can help too.

It was a well-written book, first starting off with girls in Cambodia who were kidnapped by sex slave drivers and sold to Thailand and Malaysia. Then, they moved on to China, India, Africa, and the Middle East.

In each region, girls and women faced different situational problems. In China, mass feminicide went unreported until recently. In Africa, HIV, female genital mutilation (FGM) and fistulas are rampant. In the Middle East, in India, in Cambodia, women are suffering every day.

If millions of girls and women are crying out for help, why have we not hear much about this? Media is a selective industry, and inclined to report on ‘hot’ topics such as climate change, world economic crisis, and wars in the Middle East. Women in distress were often just locked and filed away as ‘minor issues’.

From the book, a similar theme underlies these problems. The ignorance of both women and men in these situations caused by the lack of education. Thus, translating to the continuity of the brutal tradition and, the vicious cycle begins again.

However, in the recent years, rays of sunlight began shining down on these regions. The authors interspersed these depressing situations with success stories by local and international entrepreneurs of grassroots social projects. A few of them are Roshaneh Zafar, the founder of Kashf Foundation in Pakistan; Sakena Yacoobi, the founder of the Afghan Institute of Learningm and Edna Adan, who established a much-needed women’s hospital in Somaliland.

[The founder of Women for Women International, Zainab Salbi in TEDGlobal 2010.]

Stories of changed lives such as Goretti Nyabenda in Burundi, who reclaimed her respect from her husband and community through microloans from CARE, inspire me that positive change can happen. How the liberation of Srey Rath in Cambodia from a sex slave to a self-assured peddler in the outskirts of Cambodia, moved me to tears.

What I liked about this book is that the authors recommended ways to get involved. It is not one of those books where their sole purpose is to expose issues, and that’s it. Reading those books,  I often feel helpless to aid a situation so remote from the city I am living in. A few of the methods given by the authors in ‘Half the Sky’ are as listed:

But, what the authors really encourage readers to do, is to take more proactive measures by volunteering as English teachers in Mukhtar Mai’s foundation in Punjab, or being part of the U.S. Peace Corps. Or, better still to start their very own grassroot projects to tackle maternal mortality, human trafficking, sexual violence, and daily discrimination of girls and women. Only with this experience, we can understand the real situation faced by people in these places, instead of just reading and donating to the causes.

Sometimes I feel that being a student with no income, there is a certain limitation on what I can do now. Sure, as a passionate youth, I can do anything I want as long as I put my heart and energy in it (such as organising a fundraising, or a volunteer trip). Yes, I can do that, but, I think, one of the most useful things I can do now that will prove more productive in the future is to equip myself with the knowledge to help. Meanwhile, I’ll donate, volunteer and organize when I can.

What other ways we can do to help? Why not start the new year by donating or giving giftcards to family, friends, or co-workers through globalgiving.org?

globalgiving card

Image by cambodia4kidsorg via Flickr

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