Friday, 18 November 2016

Half The Sky by Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Published in America by Knopf Publishing Group in September 2009.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team, husband and wife Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, take us on a journey through Africa and Asia to meet an extraordinary array of exceptional women struggling against terrible circumstances. More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they are girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century combined. More girls are killed in this routine 'gendercide' in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth, it was totalitarianism. In the twenty-first, Kristof and WuDunn demonstrate, it will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world. Fierce, moral, pragmatic, full of amazing stories of courage and inspiration, HALF THE SKY is essential reading for every global citizen.

I guess came to the Half The Sky book backwards as I was an active member of microlending charity Kiva for a couple of years before I got around to buying it in October 2014. By then I had already joined Kiva's Half The Sky team as I was aware of the gist of the book. I am transferring my review over from my Stephanie Jane blog today to celebrate having now lent $3000 within this team!

I'm not completely sure how I feel about Half The Sky now having read it. Its aims are obviously admirable and by appealing to such a wide audience and being bought in great numbers, its message will reach many people who might previously been unaware of the plight of many of our world's women. However, I felt a bit awkward at the patronising tone in some places. Written primarily for an affluent American audience, there is very much a 'them and us' feel to the writing. Abuses happen 'elsewhere' and the apparent importance and influence of American political decisions to life and death in other sovereign nations is unnerving. It reminded me of the power of the former British empire and of how many of our decisions were catastrophic to those on the receiving end.

Also, the emotional manipulation throughout the text is phenomenal! At least the authors are upfront about this. They discuss how experiments have proved that individuals are more likely to donate, and to donate larger sums, to single named individual than to a country or a general appeal. (On reflection, this is also how Kiva works - by putting forward a series of individuals and their stories.) Before and after having made this point, that is exactly what the Half The Sky authors do. Don't expect much in the way of hard facts and figures, but instead there are dozens of anecdotes: stories of first-named women across Asia and Africa who were all horrifically treated, denied medical care, denied education, simply due to their gender. Reading so many tales is a bit like watching the serious bits of Children in Need or Comic Relief. You know you're being manipulated by clever research and editing, but there is a real need too and, by the end, you're pretty punch drunk and overwhelmed.

I am glad I have read Half The Sky. Similarly to The Rape of Nanking, its success is to get the world talking. It has reinforced my commitment to Kiva and I will now also be searching out other deeper books on the topics raised. Suggestions of other titles will be gratefully received.

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