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"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 ...

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