Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn. Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide. Vintage Books, 2009. (296 pages)
— Review —
The book reads much like one long New York Times article (or several stringed together), and is riveting, educational, inspiring, and evocative. My only regret is not reading this book sooner. There. That’s my “review.”
Additional comments and reflections below.
— Notes —
Introduction: The Girl Effect
What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce. – Mark Twain
…we journalists tend to be good at covering events that happen on a particular day, but we slip at covering events that happen every day — such as the quotidian cruelties inflicted on women an girls. (xiv)
More than 100 million women are missing – Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize-winning economist
Sen noted that in normal circumstances women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world. Even poor regions like most of Latin America and much of Africa have more females than males. Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. (xv)
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. | 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 moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world. (xvii)
Many of the stories in this book are wrenching, but keep in mind this central truth: Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity. (xviii)
Women are indeed a linchpin of the region’s development strategy. (xix)
Evidence has mounted that helping women can be a successful poverty-fighting strategy anywhere in the world. (xix)
Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world. The question is not whether countries can afford this investment, but whether countries can afford not to educate more girls. – Lawrence Summers
We will try to lay out an agenda for the world’s women focusing on three particular abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute. (xxi)
It’s true that there are many injustices in the world, many worthy causes competing for attention and support, and we all have divided allegiances. We focus on this topic because, to us, this kind of oppression feels transcendent — and so does the opportunity. We have seen that outsiders can truly make a significant difference. (xxi)
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 Wilberforce, 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. | So let us be clear about this up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way — not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful business women. (xxii)
Chapter One: Emancipating Twenty-First-Century Slaves
Women might just have something to contribute to civilization other than their vaginas. – Christopher Buckley, Florence of Arabia
The horror of sex trafficking can more properly be labeled slavery. (9)
FIGHTING SLAVERY FROM SEATTLE
People always ask how they can help. …Is there anything an ordinary person can do? | A starting point is to be brutally realistic about the complexities of achieving change. (17)
America’s schools rarely convey much understanding of the 2.7 billion people (40 percent of the world’s population) who today live on less than $2 a day. So while the primary purpose of a new movement on behalf of women is to stop slavery and honor killings, another is to expose young Americans to life abroad so that they, too, can learn and grow and blossom — and then continue to tackle the problems as adults. (21)
Chapter Two: Prohibition and Prostitution
Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself. – Abraham Lincoln
People get away with enslaving village girls for the same reason that people got away with enslaving blacks two hundred years ago: The victims are perceived as discounted humans. (24)
The tools to crush modern slavery exist, bu the political will is lacking. That must be the starting point of any abolitionist movement. (24)
In contrast, there’s empirical evidence that crackdowns can succeed, when combined with social services such as job retraining and drug rehabilitation, and that’s the approach we’ve come to favor. In countries with widespread trafficking, we favor a law enforcement strategy that pushes for fundamental change in police attitudes and regular police inspections to check for underage girls or anyone being held against their will. That means holding governments accountable not just to pass laws but also to enforce them, and monitoring how many brothels are raided and pimps are arrested. Jail-like brothels should be closed down, sting operations should be mounted against buyers of virgin girls, and national police chiefs must be under pressure to crack down on corruption as it relates to trafficking. The idea is to reduce the brothel owners’ profits. (26)
In the developing world, however, this difficult, polarizing debate is mostly just a distraction. …In poor countries, the law is often irrelevant, particularly outside the capital. Our focus has to be on changing reality, not changing laws. (32)
RESCUING GIRLS IS THE EASY PART
…many prostitutes are neither acting freely nor enslaved, but living in a world etched in ambiguities somewhere between those two extremes. (39)
For us, there were three lessons in this story. The first is that rescuing girls from brothels is complicated and uncertain. Indeed, it’s sometimes impossible, and that’s why it is most productive to focus efforts on prevention and putting brothels out of business. The second lesson is to never give up. Helping people is difficult and unpredictable, and our interventions don’t always work, but successes are possible, and these victories are incredibly important. | The third lesson is that even when a social problem is so vast as to be insoluble in its entirety, it’s still worth mitigating. We may not succeed in educating all girls in poor counties, or in preventing all women from dying in childbirth, or in saving all the girls who are imprisoned in brothels. But we think of Neth and remember a Hawaiian parable taught to us by Naka Nathaniel, the former Times videographer, himself a Hawaiian:
A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.
“What are you doing, son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.”
The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.
“It sure made a difference to that one,” he said.
Chapter Three: Learning to Speak Up
Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people. – George Bernard Shaw
“Empowerment” is a cliché in the aid community, but it is truly what is needed. The first step toward greater justice is to transform that culture o female docility and subservience, so that women themselves become more assertive and demanding. As we said earlier, that is, of course, easy for outsiders like us to say: We’re not the ones who run horrible risks for speaking up. But when a woman does stand up, it’s imperative that outsiders champion her; we also must nurture institutions to protect such people. Sometimes we may even need to provide asylum for those whose lives are in danger. More broadly, the single most important way to encourage women and girls to stand up for their rights is education, and we can do far more to promote universal education in poor countries. (53)
There will be less trafficking and less rape if more women stop turning the other cheek and begin slapping back. (53)
THE NEW ABOLITIONISTS
Think how much more effective a women’s rights movement could be if backed by an army of social entrepreneurs. The United Nations and the aid bureaucracies have undertaken a relentless search for technical solutions — including improved vaccines and new processes for boring wells — and those are important. But progress also depends on political and cultural remedies, and, frankly, on charisma. Often the key is a person with a knack for leadership: Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States, Mahatma Gandhi in India, and William Wilberforce in Britain. It’s important to invest in these emerging leaders as well as in processes, and aid organizations have largely missed the boat that Drayton launched with Ashoka. (55)
Chapter Four: Rule by Rape
The mechanism of violence is what destroys women, controls women, diminishes women and keeps women in their so-called place. – Eve Ensler, A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer
Surveys suggest that about one third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. (61)
We sometimes think that Westerners invest too much effort in changing unjust laws and not enough in changing culture, by building schools or assisting grassroots movements. Even in the United States, after all, what brought equal rights to blacks wasn’t the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments passed after the Civil War, but rather the grassroots civil rights movement nearly one hundred years later. Laws matter, but typically changing the law by itself accomplishes little. (66)
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? Why is it that in many cultures, old men are respected as patriarchs, while old women are taken outside the village to die of thirst or to be eaten by wild animals? Granted, in the societies where these abuses take place, men also suffer more violence than males do in America — but the brutality inflicted on women is particularly widespread, cruel, and lethal. | These attitudes are embedded in culture and will change only with education and local leadership. (67)
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. (67)
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. As we said, laws can help, but the greatest challenge is to change these ways of thinking. And perhaps the very best means of combating suffocating traditions is education… (69)
The most effective change agents aren’t foreigners but local women (and sometimes men) who galvanize a movement… (70)
Chapter Five: The Shame of “Honor”
If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the girl’s father and mother … shall display the cloth [that the couple slept on] before the elders of the town … If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. – Deuteronomy 22:13-21
In short, rape becomes a tool of war in conservative societies precisely because female sexuality is so sacred. (83)
“STUDY ABROAD” — IN THE CONGO
Young people often ask us how they can help address issues like sex trafficking or international poverty. Our first recommendation to them is to get out and see the world. If you can’t do that, it’s great to raise money or attention at home. But to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it — and it’s impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it firsthand, even live in its midst. | One of the great failings of the American education system, in our view, is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. Study-abroad programs tend to consist of herds of students visiting Oxford or Florence or Paris. We believe that universities should make it a requirement that all graduates spend at least some time in the developing world, either by taking a “gap year” or by studying abroad. If more Americans worked for a summer teaching English at a school like Mukhtar’s in Pakistan, or working at a hospital like HEAL Africa in Congo, our entire society would have a richer understanding of the world around us. And the rest of the world might also hold a more positive view of Americans. (88)
Chapter Six: Maternal Mortality — One Woman a Minute
Preparation for death is that most Reasonable and Seasonable thing to which you must now apply yourself. – Cotton Mather, in a sermon, Advising Pregnant Women
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 536,000 women perished in pregnancy or childbirth in 2005, a toll that has barely budged in thirty years. (98)
Some 99 percent of those deaths occur in poor countries. The most common measure is the maternal mortality ratio (MMR). This refers to the number of maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, although the data collection is usually so poor that the figures are only rough estimates. In Ireland, the safest place in the world to give birth, the MMR is just 1 per 100,000 live births. In the United States, where many more women fall through the cracks, the MMR is 11. In contrast, the average MMR in South Asia (including India and Pakistan) is 490. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is 900, and Sierra Leone has the highest MMR in the world, at 2,100. (98)
So lifetime risk of maternal death is one thousand times higher in a poor country than in the West. That should be an international scandal. (99)
A growing collection of psychological studies show that statistics have a dulling effect, while it is individual stories that move people to act. (99)
A DOCTOR WHO TREATS COUNTRIES, NOT PATIENTS
Allan Rosenfield & Paul Farmer.
Chapter Seven: Why Do Women Die in Childbirth?
Would the world stand by if it were men who were dying just for completing their reproductive functions? – Asha-Rose Migiro, UN Deputy Secretary General, 2007
- Biology. One reason women die in childbirth has to do with anatomy, arising from two basic evolutionary trade-offs.
- Lack of Schooling
- Lack of Rural Health Systems
- Disregard for Women
The Huichol [tribe in Mexico] believed that the pain of childbirth should be shared, so the mother would hold on to a string tied to her husband’s testicles. With each painful contraction, she would give the string a yank so that the man could share the burden. Surely if such a mechanism were more widespread, injuries in childbirth would garner more attention. (116-7)
Chapter Eight: Family Planning and the “God Gulf”
Whenever cannibals are on the brink of starvation, Heaven, in its infinite mercy, sends them a nice plump missionary. – Oscar Wilde
This incident reflects the “God Gulf” in American foreign policy. Religion plays a particularly profound role in shaping policies on population and family planning, and secular liberals and conservative Christians regularly square off. Each side has the best of intentions, yet each is deeply suspicious of the other — and these suspicions make it difficult to forge a broad left-right coalition that would be far more effective in confronting trafficking and overcoming the worst kinds of poverty. (132)
That has been the pattern again and again: With the best of intentions, pro-life conservatives have taken some positions in reproductive health that actually hurt those whom they are trying to help — and that result in more abortions. Pro-choice and pro-life camps, despite their differences, should be able to find common ground and work together on many points, in particular on an agenda to reduce the number of abortions. (134)
The key to curbing population is often less a technical matter of providing contraceptives and more a sociological challenge of encouraging smaller families. (135)
It appears that the most effective contraceptive is education for girls, although birth control supplies are obviously needed as well. (135)
Given biological difference, women prefer to have fewer children but to invest heavily in each of them. One way to curb fertility, therefore, may be to give women more say-so in the family. (135)
One of the greatest moral and policy failures of the last thirty years is the indifference that allowed AIDS to spread around the globe. That indifference arose in part from the sanctimony of the moralizers. In 1983, Patrick Buchanan declared, “The poor homosexuals — they have declared war against nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.” In retrospect, the grossest immorality of the 1980s took place not in San Francisco bathhouses, but in the corridors of power where self-righteous leaders displayed callous indifference to the spread of the disease. (136)
In any case, for women the lethal risk factor is often not promiscuity but marriage. …AIDS is often a disease of gender inequality. (138)
If there is to be a successful movement on behalf of women in poor countries, it will have to bridge the God Gulf. Secular bleeding hearts and religious bleeding hearts will have to forge a common cause. That’s what happened two centuries ago in the abolitionist movement, when liberal deists and conservative evangelicals joined forces to overthrow slavery. And it’s the only way to muster the political will to get now-invisible women onto the international agenda. (143)
The Index of Global Philanthropy calculates that U.S. religious organizations give $5.4 billion annually to developing countries, more than twice as much as is given by U.S. foundations. Arthur Brooks, an economist, has found that the one third of Americans who attend worship services at least once a week are “inarguably more charitable in every measurable way” than the two thirds who are less religious. Not only do they donate more, he says, but they are also are more likely to volunteer their time for charities. (144)
Both groups might work harder to ensure that their charitable contributions truly go to the needy. Conservative Christians contribute very generously to humanitarian causes, but a significant share of that money goes to build magnificent churches. Likewise, liberal contributions often go to elite universities or symphonies. These may be good causes, but they are not humanitarian. It would be good to see liberals and conservatives alike expand their range of giving so that more goes to help the truly needy. (145)
Chapter Nine: Is Islam Misogynistic?
A majority of the dwellers of hell will be women, who curse too much and are ungrateful to their spouses. – Muhammad Imran, Ideal Woman in Islam
A politically incorrect point must be noted here. Of the countries where women are held back and subjected to systematic abuses such as honor killings and genital cutting, a very large proportion are predominantly Muslim. Most Muslims worldwide don’t believe in such practices, and some Christians do — but the fact remains that the countries where girls are cut, killed for honor, or kept out of school or the workplace typically have large Muslim populations. (149)
Muslims sometimes note that such conservative attitudes have little to do with the Koran and arise from culture more than religion. that’s true: In these places, even religious minorities and irreligious people are often deeply repressive toward women. (150)
In short, often we blame a region’s religion when the oppression instead may be rotted in its culture. Yet, that acknowledged, it’s also true that one reason religion is blamed is that it is often cited by the oppressors. In the Muslim world, for example, misogynists routinely quote Muhammad to justify themselves. | So let’s face the question squarely: Is Islam misogynistic? | One answer is historical, and it is no. (150)
A society that has more men than women — particularly young men, is often associated with crime or violence. (158)
The economic implications of gender discrimination are most serious. To deny women is to deprive a country of labor and talent, but — even worse — to undermine the drive to achievement of boys and men. One cannot rear young people in such wise that half of them think themselves superior by biology, without dulling ambition and devaluing accomplishment. One cannot call male children “Pasha,” or, as in Iran, tell them that they have a golden penis,* without reducing their need to learn and do… | In general, the best clue to a nation’s growth and development potential is the status and role of women. This is the greatest handicap of Muslim Middle Eastern societies today, the flaw that most bars them from modernity. – David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations(160)
*Landes is correct that Iranians often call baby boys doudoul tala, or “golden penis.” but this is not necessarily evidence of gender bias, since Iranians call baby girls an equivalent: nanaz tala, or “golden pubic area.”
THE AFGHAN INSURGENT
The best role for Americans who want to help Muslim women isn’t holding the microphone at the front of the rally but writing the checks and carrying the bags in the back. (162-3)
That is why these people are afraid of educating women — they are afraid that then the women will ask questions, will speak up … That’s why I believe in education. It is such a powerful tool to overcome poverty and rebuild the country. If we took the foreign aid that goes to guns and weapons and just took one quarter of that and put it into education, that would completely transform this country.
The international community should focus on education. On behalf of the women and children of Afghanistan, I beg you! If we are to overcome terrorism and violence, we need education. That is the only way we can win.
Chapter Ten: Investing in Education
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. – Derek Bok
One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. (169)
A study in Ecuador suggests that iodine deficiency typically shaves ten to fifteen points off a child’s IQ. Worldwide, iodine deficiency alone reduces humanity’s collective IQ by more than 1 billion points. (172)
While empowering women is critical to overcoming poverty, it represents a field of aid work that is particularly challenging in that it involves tinkering with the culture, religion, and family relations of a society that we often don’t fully understand. (177)
So let’s freely acknowledge that Murphy’s Law plays a role in the aid world. Foreign assistance is difficult to get right, and it sometimes is squandered. Yet it is equally clear that some kinds of aid do work. (178)
Chapter Eleven: Microcredit: The Financial Revolution
It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. – Kofi Annan, Then UN Secretary-General, 2006
Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses. (192)
Chapter Twelve: The Axis of Equality
A women has so many parts to her body, life is very hard indeed. – Lu Xun, “Anxious Thoughts on ‘Natural Breasts’ ” (1927)
So was it cultural imperialism for Westerners to criticize foot-binding and female infanticide? Perhaps. But it was also the right thing to do. If we believe firmly in certain values, such as the equality of all human beings regardless of color or gender, then we should not be afraid to stand up for them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, torture, foot-binding, honor killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths or cultures. One lesson of China is that we need not accept that discrimination is an intractable element of any society. If culture were immutable, China would still be impoverished and Sheryl would be stumbling along on three-inch feet. (207)
Chapter Thirteen: Grassroots vs. Treetops
Are women human yet? If women were human, would we be a cash crop shipped from Thailand in containers into New York’s brothels…? Would our genitals be sliced out to “cleanse” us…? When will women be human? When? – Catherine A. MacKinnon, Are Women Human?
Chapter Fourteen: What You Can Do
You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
The unfortunate reality is that women’s issues are marginalized, and in any case sex trafficking and mass rape should no more be seen as women’s issues than slavery was a black issue or the Holocaust was a Jewish issue. These are all humanitarian concerns, transcending any one race, gender, or creed. (234)
Moreover, emancipation of women offers another dimension in which to tackle geopolitical challenges such as terrorism. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States tried to address terrorism concerns in Pakistan by transferring $10 billion in helicopters, guns, and military and economic support; in that same period, the United States became steadily more unpopular in Pakistan, the Musharraf government less stable and extremists more popular. Imagine if we had used the money instead to promote education and microfinance in rural Pakistan, through Pakistani organizations. The result would likely have been greater popularity for the United States and greater involvement of women in society. And, as we’ve argued, when women gain a voice in society, there’s evidence of less violence. (237)
Think about the major issues confronting us in this century. These include war, insecurity, and terrorism; population pressures, environmental strains, and climate change; poverty and income gaps. For all these diverse problems, empowering women is part of the answer. (238)
Consider the costs of allowing half a country’s human resources to go untapped. Women and girls cloistered in huts, uneducated, unemployed, and unable to contribute significantly to the world represent a vast seam of human gold that is never mined. The consequence of failing to educate girls is a capacity gap not only in billions of dollars of GNP but also in billions of IQ points. (239)
So the time is ripe for a new emancipation movement to empower women and girls around the world. …The movement should adhere to these principles:
- Strive to build broad coalitions across liberal and conservative lines.
- Resist the temptation to oversell.
- Helping women doesn’t mean ignoring men.
- American feminism must become less parochial, so that it is every bit as concerned with sex slavery in Asia as with Title IX sports programs in Illinois.
If there were a fifth principle, it would be: Don’t pay too much attention to the first four. Any movement needs to be flexible; it should be relentlessly empirical and open to different strategies in different places. For example, we’ve repeatedly described educating girls as the single best way to lower fertility, improve children’s health, and create a more just and dynamic society. But as we were writing this book, two new studies pointed to another approach to revolutionize fertility and gender in the villages: television. (244)
We would like to see a grassroots campaign bringing together feminist organizations and evangelical churches and everyone in between, calling on the president and Congress to pass three specific initiatives.
- The first would be a $10 billion effort over five years to educate girls around the world and reduce the gender gap in education. (246)
- The second initiative would be for the United States to sponsor a global drive to iodize salt in poor countries, to prevent tens of millions of children from losing approximately ten I.Q. points each as a result of iodine deficiency while their rains are still being formed in the uterus. (247)
- The third initiative would be a twelve-year, $1.6 billion project to eradicate obstetric fistula, while laying the groundwork for a major international assault on maternal mortality. (247)
These three steps — campaigns to fund girls’ education, to iodize salt to prevent mental retardation, and to eradicate fistula — would not solve the problems of the world’s women. But action on these three measures would raise the underlying issues higher on the international affairs agenda, and would illustrate solutions to the problems. (247)
If we are to address injustices abroad, we also have to attempt to address them at home, and the abuse of girls…must be high on the agenda. More broadly, the challenge is to change attitudes. As Stephanie Davis, who has tackled trafficking in Atlanta from a perch in the mayor’s office, put it: “The problem isn’t the girls in the streets; it’s the men in the pews.” (248)
If you care about poverty you must understand it, not just oppose it. And understanding poverty comes from spending time observing it directly. (248)
Self-improvement comes mainly from trying to help others. – Sir John Templeton
Social psychologists have learned a great deal about happiness in recent years, and one of the surprises is that the things we believe will make us happy won’t. (250)
Yet Professor Haidt and others advise that there are a few factors that can affect our happiness levels in a sustained way. One is “a connection to something larger” — a greater cause or a humanitarian purpose. …We are neurologically constructed so that we gain huge personal dividends from altruism. (250)
The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings. The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction. Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings, and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding.The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete — and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander. (251)
FOUR STEPS YOU CAN TAKE IN THE NEXT TEN MINUTES
- Go to www.globalgiving.org or www.kiva.org and open an account.
- Sponsor a girl or a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service.
- Sign up for e-mail updates on www.womensenews.org and a similar service, www.worldpulse.com
- Join the CARE Action Network at www.can.care.org.
The government will act where our national interests are at stake; however, history has repeatedly shown that where our values are at stake, leadership must come from ordinary citizens like you. (253)
Appendix – Organizations Supporting Women
Here are some of the groups that specialize in supporting women in developing countries. In addition, there are many outstanding aid groups, such as International Rescue Committee, UNICEF, Save the Children, and Mercy Corps, that are not list below because women and girls are not their only focus. This list is not a rating, screening, or exhaustive list; it is a quirky compendium of groups both small and large that we’ve seen in action. Consider it a starting point for further research. Two useful Web sites to consult for more information about aid groups are www.charitynavigator.org and www.givewell.net.
The Girl Fund (www.thegirlfund.org) [broken link]
— VIA —
A couple thoughts.
First, I’m sociologically and psychologically curious how important it is that Nicholas, a male, is writing about this subject. In polemics as well as in persuasion, it is impossible to remove the messenger from the message. With gender, I’m curious how much of the power of this book would have been lost had it only been WuDunn as the author. In paradoxical fashion, I simply wonder if the thrust of the argument is lost in the unfortunate perception of “another feminist.” As mentioned in the book, the ethic is that movements must come from and be supported by the “insiders.” However, it is necessary sometimes for “outsiders” to “write the check.”
Second, I am impressed again at just how much leadership matters. The fundamentals of vision, empowerment, language, determination, inspiration, etc., are wrought through every example of transformation, and throughout each example. It starts to sound redundant and cliché, however, everything really does rise and fall on leadership.
Third, I’m struck with the focus on cultural change. It doesn’t take long to realize that, as stated in the book, “Laws matter, but typically changing the law by itself accomplishes little.” (66) It is absolutely necessary for heart change to happen, for biases to change, for personal convictions, and worldviews to change. All of these perception and values issues are at the very heart of revolution, and it is this and these efforts of which the Church should be about. And this is more than simple “spiritual conversion.” It is a radical shift in view that is often predicated on phenomenological events. This reality ought to seriously challenge and convict anyone in “ministry” to thoughtfully examine current “evangelistic practices” and consider changing in light of this truth.
Fourth, regarding the Deuteronomy 22 reference, I suggest it is unfair and irresponsible that the authors quote only a portion of the passage. The following is more of the passage and I’ve highlighted the parts that illustrate equal punishment for crimes committed by the man, an ethic that would do well in the examples shared in Half the Sky. (Now, I will concede that v. 13-15, 20-21 are still disturbing)
13 If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” 15 then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. 16 Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17 Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18 and the elders shall take the man and punish him. 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels[b] of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.
22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.
23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
This does not “solve the problem” of capital punishment by stoning in that day and age for sexual crimes, but it does illustrate equity when it comes to the enforcement of the law, an equity that is glaringly missing in the rape cases mentioned in Half the Sky. So, while I concede that stoning is a challenge to Biblical adherents as to why that kind of punishment is in “the Scriptures,” I also think there exists, paradoxically, a value and justice for both genders that would be a huge step forward in civilization even by today’s standards in parts of the Middle East.
Fifth, I’m reminded of the Fundamental Attribution Error when it comes to Islam; that is, when other people act unjustly, it must be because of their religion. When we act unjustly, it must be because of our culture. Somewhere in there is a blended, complicated, messy truth that we must first be humble about, second, rigorously thoughtful.
Lastly, the phrase that just continually sticks with me is that we must be “relentlessly empirical.” That flexibility, humility, and deeply convicted value ought to inform more of the population in all things.