No book has moved me more in recent years than the book, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book offers an extended, powerful and clear argument for investing in girls and women around the world.
In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.
The first half of the book outlines the moral challenge. The problem of child prostitution and slavery. The problem of violence against women. The problem of maternal mortality. Much of the second half of the book highlights strategies that have been successful in empowering women in the face of such problems—notably education, public health strategies and microfinance.
The authors are not timid in their intentions. As early as the introduction they announce:
We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way—not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen. This is a story of transformation. It is change that is already taking place . . .
I consider myself recruited. Maybe it’s because of the emphasis on education. Maybe it’s because of this synergy of health care and education in freeing women from such daunting problems. Maybe it’s because as a teacher I find myself wanting to incorporate some of this work into my sophomore world literature course in the coming year.
One of the things I especially like about this book is the way Kristof and WuDunn highlight individuals and organizations around the world who are making a difference. Sakeena Yacoobi, an Afghan woman who runs the Afghan Institute of Learning. Ann Cotton, a Welsh woman who runs the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed). And Meena Hasina, an Indian Muslim woman, kidnapped and sold to a brothel as a young girl, now working in Forbesgunge, India as a community organizer, promoting education for daughters as well as sons.
Recently, I’ve come to think of these individuals and groups as an extension of a healing corridor that I imagined a few years back. I want to find ways to build connections to that healing corridor here.