A Species Divided Will Not Stand

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide - Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn

“Decades from now, people will look back and wonder how societies could have acquiesced in a sex slave trade in the twenty-first century that is... bigger than the transatlantic slave trade was in the nineteenth. They will be perplexed that we shrugged as a lack of investment in maternal health caused half a million women to perish in childbirth each year.” 

Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide



A few years back when I was still in college I had to drive twenty-five miles to get there. I would listen to music of course but many times I would listen to NPR. One report I heard while driving across the winterized Kansas landscape was the number of women and children who are trafficked in the United States. One of the highest times of abuse for these first world slaves was during the Super Bowl. Women and children raped during America’s largest sporting event. I was not unaware of the nature of human trafficking, but it had been awhile since I had heard real numbers defining the scope of the abuse. Such things have always sickened and saddened me. It was made worse, for now I have daughters and my terrifying imagination could put them in such hellish situations. 


Ever since I was young I considered by myself a feminist. Of course, I didn’t always know that word and it’s definition to me changed over time. However, I always knew that I preferred the companionship, guidance, and influence of women over men. I also knew that women got the short end of the stick. The world was unequal in it’s treatment of gender, that was as clear as day to me, even as a child. So, it was natural that as I studied history I tried to look for the women, and their contribution, or at the very least moments when men understood the importance of women. Sometimes I found it and when I did I saw a very different world. 


Mao Zedong was famous for saying ‘Women hold up half the sky.” Women in the Chinese Communist Party were equal to the men, in all ways. It was one of the reasons that they were successful in driving out the Japanese as well as the Nationalist from mainland China. Whenever women were equal, economically and socially, allowed to participate in government, societies flourished. By flourished I mean became peaceful, and wealthy, and efficient. That is why in today’s world so many people are learning to champion women’s equality, because they will have better societies with greater rewards for their citizens. Unfortunately, because it is the right thing to do doesn’t always factor in. I say women’s equality because they are being denied their human rights, so I won’t call it women’s rights. Two journalists, Sheryl WuDunn and her husband Nicholas D. Kristof wrote a book to educate the first world on the problems surrounding women’s equality around the world. Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide was educational and uplifting. 


This journalistic couple has worked together before, with titles like; China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power and Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia. Both of these works I have read and enjoyed, I still own those books as well, so it wasn’t a tough decision to pick this book up. I was also intrigued by the vision of the book. I didn’t really want to read another book detailing the horrors of human trafficking and the abuse of women and children. I know how bad it is, I want to know what can be done to stop it. Fortunately, despair was not what this book promised it’s reader. It suggested that there was hopeful things to learn about, and learn I did.

The chapters of the book focus on specific problems in different areas of the world. Each chapter uses one or two women to tell the reader about the problems, how bad it can get and the troubles with trying to find a solution. There is a second part of the chapter that details a successful way that the issues are being handled. For example, the authors wrote about obstetric fistulas, which occur most commonly in countries where women give birth without medical help. Mid-wives might be used, but these mid-wives have no medical training. The fistula is a tearing of tissue that separates organs like the bladder and rectum. Therefore the unfortunate victim leaks urine and feces out of her vagina. Most families have no money to help the women afflicted, or chose not to, because, after all they are women. 


Wudunn and Kristof take this horror story a step further and introduce to the reader to a woman like Edan Adan, who got an education and found the means to open a hospital in her native Somali to help deal with the fistula problem. This is where the hope shines in on the dark subjects the authors tackle. They show how one program is working and how it might work else where. However, it is not just the program that the authors are praising or wanting to point out, though they do provide the reader with a complete listing of trust worthy and competent organizations working for woman. They want to shed light on the women behind these programs. For the main thrust of this book is to show what educated, free women do with their skills. Also, these aren’t just any women, these are local women. Local women being able to raise themselves up are having more of an impact in changing their cultures and societies for the better, than foreigners who come and go. 


The book has also gone further than just a something people should read. It has become a movement. The Half The Sky Movement has become a hub to connect people across the world to support a variety of issues all concerning Women’s Emancipation. There is now a film, a game to help teach children, celebrities have donated their time, money and image to promote the movement. The movement covers everything from ending human trafficking, to getting vaccinations, to keeping girls in school. Whatever helps women become fully equal and free to choose their own path. 


What Wudunn and Kristof want us to take away from this book, is that helping local women develop themselves, is the key to changing the inequality the world over. The empowerment of women is what will save so many from death, hunger, disease. The authors use the numbers to back their case, but also the voices of those who were victimized and those who overcame. I would recommend this book to anyone who needs to see hope in this very dark modern world of ours. I would also recommend this book to anyone who needs to understand that denying half of ourselves is damaging for the whole planet. I believe that the next step in human evolution is in gender equality. Lincoln said of the United States a house divided cannot stand, can that not be applied to us as a species? I believe it is time for women to finally became equal partners in the fate of the human race, for as Wudunn and Kristof argue, that fate will be a brighter and better one.