I have read my fair share of fiction and non-fiction but never have I read a book that has uplifted me so much to do my part in changing what is our present day world’s most tragic humanitarian crisis – oppression of women.
The title ‘Half the Sky’ refers to a Chinese proverb that states, “Women hold up half the sky” and this amazing book details inspiring stories of volunteers, activists, victims turned role models, donors, and similarly wonderful human beings who have transformed the lives of other women, men, and children around the world.
If you are looking to learn more about how you can effectively change the world, as an individual or group, and gain strength from brave souls who have overcome tremendous adversity – do read this book!
Here are 9 Important Lessons to Takeaway from ‘Half the Sky’
Note: The following italicized text is directly sourced from various chapters of the book.
1. The Girl Effect
Evidence has mounted that helping women can be a successful poverty fighting strategy anywhere in the world. The Self-Employed Women’s Association as founded in India in 1972 and ever since has supported the poorest women in starting business – raising living standards that have dazzled scholars and foundations. In Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus developed microfinance at the Grameen Bank and targeted women borrowers. Another Bangladeshi group, BRAC, the largest antipoverty organization in the world, worked with the poorest women to save lives and raise income. “Investment in girls’s education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world,” as noted by the chief economist of World Bank in 1990s.
Economists who scrutinized East Asia’s success noted a common pattern. Those countries took took young women who previously had contributed negligibly to gross national product (GNP) and injected them into the formal economy, hugely increasing the labor force. The basic formula was to ease repression, educate girls as well as boys, give girls the freedom to move to the cities and take factory jobs, and then benefit from a demographic dividend as they delayed marriage and reduced childbearing. The women, meanwhile, financed the education of younger relatives, and saved enough of their pay to boost national savings rates. This pattern has been called “the girl effect.” In a nod to the female chromosomes, it could also be called “the double X solution.”
2. Countering Terrorism with Female Empowerment
Some security experts noted that the countries that nurture terrorists are disproportionally those where women are marginalized. The reason there are so many Muslim terrorists, they argued, has little to do with the Koran but a great deal to do with the robust female participation in the economy and society of many Islamic countries. Empowering girls, some in the military argued, would disempower terrorists.
The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine “gendercide” in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.
4. Gender equality
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 challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.
5. Western Savior Complex and Emancipation of Women and Girls
Honor killings, sexual slavery, and genital cutting may seem to Western readers to be tragic but inevitable in a world far, far away. In much the same way, slavery was once widely viewed by many decent Europeans and Americans as a regrettable but ineluctable feature of human life. It was just one more horror that had existed for thousands of years. But then in the 1780s a few indignant Britons, led by William Wilbeforce, decided that slavery was so offensive that they had to abolish it. And they did. Today we see the seed of something similar: a global movement to emancipate women and girls.
6. Statistics on Violence Against Women
Surveys suggest that about one third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged 15 through 45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. A major study by the WHO found that in most countries, between 30% and 60% of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or boyfriend.
7. Laws and their Efficacy
In poor countries, laws rarely matter much outside the capital….Even in the US, what brought equal rights to blacks wasn’t the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments passed after the Civil War, but rather the grassroots civil rights movement nearly 100 years later. Laws matter, but typically changing the law by itself accomplishes little.
Behind the rapes and other abuse heaped on women in much of the world, it’s hard not to see something more sinister than just libido and prurient opportunism. Namely: sexism and misogyny. How else to explain why so many more witches were burned than wizards? Why is acid thrown in women’s faces, but not in men’s? Why are women so much more likely to be stripped naked and sexually humiliated than men?
9. Male and Female Perpetrators
In talking about misogyny and gender-based violence, it would be easy to slip into the conceit that men are the villains. But it’s not true. Granted, men are often brutal to women. Yet it is women who routinely manage brothels in poor countries, who ensure that their daughters’ genitals are cut, who feed sons before daughters, who take their sons but not their daughters to clinics for vaccination. One study suggests that women perpetrators were involved, along with men, in one quarter of the gang rapes in the Sierra Leone civil war.