Crusading for Women
"Women hold up half the sky." So goes a Chinese proverb that is the reference for the title of this New York Times bestseller.
Husband and wife journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn use Half the Sky to promote the idea that the key to fighting poverty and to unleashing economic success in developing nations is to economically empower women and girls.
Chapter by chapter, the authors introduce readers to individual women in various corners of the world who have overcome oppression, injustice, and abuse—and the social entrepreneurs who helped them to do so. Their central premise is not about women's rights as often defined in Western discussions, but outright and lethal disregard for the value of women and girls: "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 of the wars 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."
From sex-selective abortions, "honor killings," acid attacks, bride burnings, sex trafficking, and forced prostitution to mass rape, genital cutting, needless maternal mortality, fistulas, and impediments to education and literacy, women and girls in the developing world face real trauma simply for being female.
Kristof and WuDunn attempt to maintain a non-partisan middle ground in the book, calling liberals and conservatives to partner on joint endeavors. Though they do write honestly about the implications of abortion on female fetuses, they do not have sympathy for the abstinence agenda pushed by the Bush administration and take a few swipes at the former president. At the same time, they point out liberal reactions to prostitution, citing the divergent policies of Sweden (which criminalized the purchase of sex) and the Netherlands (which legalized prostitution) that led to lower prostitution rates in Sweden and increased problems with sex tourism, sex trafficking, and child prostitution in the Netherlands.
Originally, we sympathized with the view that a prohibition won't work any better against prostitution today than it did against alcohol in America in the 1920s. Instead of trying fruitlessly to ban prostitution, we believed it would be preferable to legalize and regulate it. … Over time, we've changed our minds.
While women do suffer at the hands of men, the authors point out that it is women who abort their female fetuses, who cut the genitals of their daughters, who favor their sons over their daughters for education and medical treatment, and who often abuse their daughters-in-law. "In short, women themselves absorb and transmit misogynistic values, just as men do. This is not a tidy world of tyrannical men and victimized women, but a messier realm of oppressive social customs adhered to by men and women alike."
Throughout the book, the authors cite the work of Christians around the world, though not always highlighting the faith that drives these social entrepreneurs. From the HEAL Africa hospital in the anarchic war zone of the Congo that treats women traumatized by mass rape and left with fistulas and the remarkable Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, to the anti-trafficking efforts of the International Justice Mission, Christians are on the frontlines of change. However, to their credit, the authors do note one central fact: