I’ve been telling everyone who’ll listen recently about an amazing book I read recently - Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
On International Women’s Day I attended an event organised by the indefatiguable social entrepreneur Sinead Mac Manus entitled Enabling Women. At it, Ruthie from the Orchid Project spoke about their work to end Female Genital Cutting (FGC) and referred to Half The Sky as a must read. She was so right. I’m not sure it’s possible to read that book and not be spurred into some kind of action, and it’s been a major part of what inspired me to start this blog (and write my guest post on Candepop).
In it Kristof and WuDunn go into sometimes graphic detail about the lives women lead in parts of Africa and Asia. It describes young women being trafficked into prostitution, violently raped as a weapon of war in the Congo, suffering obstetric fistulas through violence or childbirth, dying while giving birth and living through FGC. It is, at times, bleak and horrifying but if that’s all it was I couldn’t have kept reading and the book wouldn’t have inspired the movement and passion that it has.
The truly wonderful thing about Half The Sky is that it also details the amazing work being done to change things. The writers (Pulitzer prize-winners, no less) clearly believe in grassroots level change and tell story after story of young women who have been helped out of prostitution or who have managed to stay in school and change the course of their lives. While looking at the pitfalls of the traditional aid-based development model, they identify simple solutions to problems that, frankly, I was stunned to find existed at all. For instance, I can honestly say that it had never occurred to me that menstruation could keep girls out of school for up to a week every month. Not cramps or the need to stay home with a hot water bottle and a duvet, but a simple lack of any sanitary products other than a reused, old rag and the fact of only having one pair of underwear. These girls simply can’t risk going to school and potentially having their clothes publicly stained. In fact, even when FemCare (the division of Procter & Gamble who make Tampax and Always pads) tried to give sanitary products to girls, the lack of facilities at the school where the girls could use them, still prevented them from attending. They then went on to build school toilets, and then tackled local taboos around blood disposal by dealing with waste collection and distributing incinerators (for more, see Chapter Ten).
I could go on and on about what I learned from this book, and will refer to it often in coming posts, but for now I’ll just say - read it. It’s hard reading at times and you may need to look away, take a break or even skip a paragraph or two, but that’s just reading it. Imagine living it.