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Half the Sky is Held up by Women

August 29, 2009


half the skyNew York Times journalist and Pulitzer prize winners, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn  (who quit journalism to work for Goldman Sachs) have co-authored Half the Sky: Turning Opression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, to be released on September 8, 2009, and available to pre-order now.

Nicholas Kristof has written extensively about global opression and violence towards women and girls, including Lubna Hussein, Mukhtar Mai and Assiya Rafiq, and has particularly focused coverage ofnDarfur, Sudan.

The Half the Sky website contains many celebrity accolades for this book, and lays out the premise:

Half the Sky lays out an agenda for the world’s women and three major abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape; maternal mortality, which needlessly claims one woman a minute. We know there are many worthy causes competing for attention in the world. We focus on this one because this kind of oppression feels transcendent – and so does the opportunity. Outsiders can truly make a difference.

So let us be clear up front: 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. It is a process that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen. You can help accelerate change if you’ll just open your heart and join in.

I look forward to reading Half the Sky, which can be pre-ordered from Amazon – if you wish to order in the US then please use this link then a share of the profit goes to MercyCorps.  I do hope however, that the global stories include stories of poverty and abuse of women in Western countries as well.

MercyCorps has produced a pack to be used when reading Half the Sky as part of your bookclub.  Just register on the site and receive the pack.

I shall leave you with the introduction of the essay published in the NYT which is adapted from Half the Sky:

IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.  

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2009 18:33

    “It is a process that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.”

    So a Goldman Sachs elite thinks human rights are best achieved through business, you really ought to read the Shock Doctrine!

  2. August 29, 2009 19:31

    I think you miss the point. By enabling a woman to earn a wage, she can then educate herself and her daughters. Education, as I’m sure you know, is the biggest factor regarding poverty and abuse. This is about empowering women and their families through an income and an education.

    Not everything is about the evils of capitalism, and the mighty Shock Doctrine idealogy, of which you are so fond of.

    What in particular do you dislike about financing women to earn an income within the system they live, which can then break cycles of poverty and abuse? Should women remain in subjugation until corrupt financial systems are overthrown? It would be a very long wait!

  3. August 29, 2009 20:56

    The Shock Doctrine is not an ideology, it is a dissection of one. That is why it is worth reading, as it shows how American promotion of intervention overseas and the market as a solution is not what it appears to be. Kristof is a capitalist pragmatist he supports sweatshops

    And basically this sounds a little patronising, what women need is for corporations to stop profiting off their oppression. The book appears to assume they need help, what they need is for rich corporate employees (ie the authors) to not support a system that relies on keeping them uneducated and poor. It’s very ego pleasing for such people to think they are helping, perhaps it assuages their guilt over their privilege. But women are not poor and uneducated because people of good conscience forgot to ‘help’ them, it is by design, it is backed up with death squads who kill organisers and rights workers that keep labour cheap for global businesses. So before you ‘help’ them identify who amongst us funds and supports the oppression and stop them (some of the great and the good in the article are also amongst those who profit off such dynamics. The title ‘The Women’s Crusade’ also displays massive cultural insensitivity being as they talk about Muslim cultures). Maybe the book covers that and identifies those who profit from the current system, such as Goldman Sachs, you can’t put out a fire while also letting more petrol be poured on it. It’s like talking about domestic violence and ignoring the role of patriarchy and men who don’t stop other men from doing it or seeing it as acceptable.
    That the last quote mentions the ‘US…Joint Chiefs of Staff’ as somehow recognising and being concerned with poverty and oppression of females does make me wary of the level of insight and sophistication of the analysis. Last count they presided over killing a million Iraqis which admittedly has eradicated poverty and oppression for them, the dead have no such concerns.

    My point is if you want to help this approach might not be as helpful as they think because they display an inbuilt bias of analysing other cultures more critically than their own and assume capitalism ends inequality not creates it.
    But hey, I have yet to read it so until I do I just offer this as food thought, we can debate it after we have both had a perusal.

  4. August 30, 2009 03:05

    “The Shock Doctrine is not an ideology, it is a dissection of one.”

    I disagree. It is an ideology, which then looks through history for evidence to support it.

    Let’s all wait for the world to become fair and sit on our hands until then, lest any Western egos are asuaged.

    btw, to balance the Mother Jones article it is worth pointing out that Kristof defends work in sweatshops as an alternative to earning a ‘living’ scavenging from garbage dumps.

    I rather think that pragmatism is a hella lot more useful than ideology.

  5. August 30, 2009 18:58

    I did not suggest “Let’s all wait for the world to become fair and sit on our hands until then,” I am saying that the solutions the book appears to propose are very debatable. What they propose is similar to what the tories and New Labour propose here (that low paid work is the way out of poverty for women) I say their ambitions are too low and that the microfinance market will be worth billions and guess who one of authors works for, the world’s most powerful bank…

    nb. To clarify The Shock Doctrine book is a dissection of the ideology of disaster capitalism and neoliberalism, taken together it does call them elements of ‘the shock doctrine’ which it identifies as an ideology. That is what I meant.

  6. August 30, 2009 19:03

    ” I say their ambitions are too low ”

    Agreed! But probably achievable.

    Sheryl Wu Dunn no longer works for Goldman Sachs – I obviously didn’t make it clear enough in the intro. (well, it may have been a deliberate error as I can’t marry the two either).

  7. September 20, 2009 22:55

    “The title ‘The Women’s Crusade’ also displays massive cultural insensitivity being as they talk about Muslim cultures)”

    I would go further now, after reading how the authors write of Islam, to say it is a deliberate insensitivity.

    “Maybe the book covers that and identifies those who profit from the current system, such as Goldman Sachs”

    Not a chance!!

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