Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

August 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Audio, Blog, Books, Front Page, Poverty, Women

It has been nine years since Koffi Annan, then the UN Secretary-General, made the statement at the Fifth World Congress on Women that the future of our planet depends upon women.

Much progress has been made towards the realization of the United Nations 3rd Millennium Development Goal to “promote gender equality and empower women,” but so much more still needs to be done.

For several years I have followed New York Times columnist, Nick Kristof, as he travels the world, often at great personal risk, shedding light upon the overwhelming challenges that women throughout the globe continue to face. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, both Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and authors of two previous books, are about to release their much anticipated Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Women hold up half the sky – Chinese Proverb

As Kristof says, “We wrote a book devoted to women in the developing world because, if you want to fight poverty and extremism, you need to educate and empower women and bring them into the economy. A country can’t grow and be stable if half the population is marginalized.

The reviews of Kristof and WuDunn’s book suggest that it will enlighten, but also inspire readers. Their book tells the inspiring stories of brave women who have overcome the most terrible circumstances to set their lives on a bright new path.

Once inspired, then what?

I have chosen to accept the invitation extended by Mercy Corps to activate this inspiration into action.

If you’re interested in joining Mercy Corps in an unprecedented endeavor to provide women with the training, financial resources and education needed to raise their families and communities out of hunger, please consider reading “Half the Sky” and hosting a fundraising event. Mercy Corps will send you all the information you need to host a successful event, whether it’s a campaign set up on your Facebook page or hosting an informal luncheon. Visit OneTable on the Mercy Corps website for details.

Together, we can help women around the world use their own ideas and energy to lift their families out of poverty. Click on the book image to the left to pre-order the book, which will be released September 8, 2009.

Laura Mack
Contributing Writer
Blue Planet Green Living


3 Responses to “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”

  1. Tom Boone on September 20th, 2009 12:39 pm

    I was able to read most of an advance copy of this book before Bill Drayton (founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public) snatched it away and ran off with it on his annual 2-week hiking trip to the mountains.

    I think this has to be the most important book – not just for women’s rights globally but for human rights – published in my memory. Kristof and WuDunn weave together a most compelling story of how culture and customs historically suppress women. They tackle many tough, taboo topics – for example honor killing. But more importantly, they champion the stories of heroic women worldwide wholly committed to changing the many evils of the status quo.
    What is more, they posit a kind of general framework theory that the really important advances in human rights that are going to be made in the near future are going to be brought about by these entrepreneurial pioneering women. In essence, that the backbone of the human rights movement and of real change across all societies is going to be a direct function of brave women who give themselves permission to say “NO” to thousands of years of (to most Westerners) unimaginable oppressive cultural customs and who take it upon themselves to lead to a new way. Once you have read the book, it is very hard, if not impossible, to disagree with Kristof and WuDunn’s general theme. To wit, the brave women of Iran who took to the streets to protest the results of the recent election.

    Among many other “super” women, HALF THE SKY spotlights the following inspirational Ashoka Fellows:

    • Sunitha Krishnan (India), founder of Prajwala, a citizen sector organization in Hyderabad, India, fighting forced prostitution and sex trafficking, rescuing women and children from sexual exploitation, incestual rape, sexual torture, and abuse in prostitution. Her organization helps former prostitutes learn vocational skills so they can move into new careers. “Prajwala” means “an eternal flame”.

    • Sakena Yacoobi (Afghanistan), founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, a citizen sector organization providing teacher training to Afghan women, educating and fostering education for girls and boys, and providing health education to women and children. Her organization also runs fixed and mobile health clinics that provide family planning services. Sakena holds the distinction of having been Ashoka’s first Afghan Fellow. Educating women and girls was banned under the Taliban and is controversial under Islamic law.

    • Roshaneh Zafar (Pakistan), founder of Pakistani microfinance lender, Kashf. A former World Bank employee, she was inspired after a chance meeting with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. “Kashf” means “miracle” and Kashf is indeed fostering a miracle by leveraging microfinance to women to transform the role of women in Pakistani society and bringing about a poverty-free world. To date, Kashf supports 305,038 families in Pakistan, has disbursed $202 million, and has 52 branches nationwide.

    I am not alone in my enthusiasm for this book! Last Tuesday, September 15, 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (“UNODC”) hosted a panel discussion and book signing with Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn in the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber at UN Headquarters. All 550 seats in the Trusteeship Council Chamber were filled. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered opening remarks. Special recognition goes to Simone Monasebian and Anna Rosario Kennedy of the UNODC for putting together this behemoth of an event.

    Five out of five stars. An absolute must read for anyone who cares about women’s rights or human rights. A genuine eye popper that moves so fast, tackles so much that has hitherto been taboo and unmovable, and interweaves the unbelievably positive stories of the very heroic women already leading and creating change in a tapestry that is glimpse of a brave and very different, humanitarian new world.

    Once you pick this book up, you will not be able to put it down. And once you have read it, you will be moved to help bring about tomorrow. Absolute proof that the glass (or the sky) is half full. We just have to give ourselves permission to make change. Or as Gandhi said, “we must be the change we wish to see.”


    -Tom Boone, Ashoka

  2. Julia Wasson on September 21st, 2009 1:20 pm

    Thank you for adding your support and praise to this powerful book, Tom.

    I’d also like to mention another book that I found most informative and interesting: How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, by David Bornstein. It’s no doubt a familiar title, as the book profiles social entrepreneurs who were funded by Ashoka. I applaud Ashoka for the important work you are doing and the positive difference you are making to people around the world.

    Julia Wasson, Publisher
    Blue Planet Green Living

  3. Laura Mack, Contributing Writer : Blue Planet Green Living on October 10th, 2009 6:35 pm

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