Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
#1 National Bestseller From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope. They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS. Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty. Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.
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Introduction - The Girl Effect
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Are there any words you need to look up on this page?
What was the genesis of this book?
Which term should be used to describe these nations - third-world nations or developing nations? Read this brief article and consider all of the different connotations of each. (This annotation contains a link)
What do women across nations need in order to pull themselves out of cycles of poverty and abuse?
Infant mortality rates are disproportionately higher in developing countries, as illustrated in this map. (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter One - Emancipating Twenty-First-Century Slaves
Explain the incongruity of the situation described here.
Throughout the book, the authors use actual evidence (statistics and true narratives) to make their arguments. What do you find more persuasive - individual accounts or numbers? (This annotation contains a video)
What does Ainul's role in the brothel prove?
Consider what the difference is between compliance and consent. Some may quibble that this is just semantics, but the nuance here is extremely significant when it comes to womens' rights.
All of the following are factors as to why sex slavery continues to worsen EXCEPT
The name was changed in 2001 to be more in line with Bengali pronunciation. (This annotation contains an image)
Outline some of the complexities of humanitarian aid work as listed here. What can also problematic with Western "interference" in these developing nations?
One of the major points the authors make over and over again through out the book is that educating girls is key to positive change. So, the question is why are smart girls so scary? (This annotation contains a video)
What have these American students gained from their affiliation with the Cambodian school?
Chapter Two - Prohibition and Prostitution
The authors do not use much figurative language in this book, so as to clearly state the issues and present them to the reader in a very straight forward manner. Even so, what is the implied metaphor here? (This annotation contains a video)
Why did the authors change their minds about the legalization of prostitution?
Why do you think the numbers were exaggerated by the DMSC? What were they trying to hide?
Why has this endeavor failed? What are the consequences of this?
What did Sweden do that made their endeavors against sex trafficking successful?
This is in reference to the famous Teddy Roosevelt quote about diplomacy - "Speak softly and carry a big stick." (This annotation contains an image)
What does Neth's tone imply?
Coming home after such a traumatic experience is no easy feat. Momm also does not know if her family will accept her, or if they will reject her in shame for what has happened to her.
In your own words, explain this cycle of the brothels.
What saves Neth from being trafficked into another brothel?
What do you think of Neth's decision not to tell her husband about this? What problems, beyond their immediate family, does this create?
As you continue to read, be aware of the personal and cultural points of view of both authors. (This annotation contains a video)
Chapter Three - Learning to Speak Up
Illustrate how this quote relates to situation in the brothels.
The Indian caste system is a social stratification system, or one of social segregation. Although it is illegal to discriminate against lower castes, it still occurs regularly. Watch this video that explains the effect of the caste system on women in India. (This annotation contains a video)
How does Usha influence change in her community?
This collective blame for a crime is reminiscent of the revenge murder of Mr. Ratchett in Agatha Christie's 'Murder on the Orient Express.' The idea is that no individual can be singled out for the murder, and therefore cannot be prosecuted. (This annotation contains an image)
What is significant about Zach's involvement in putting a stop to human trafficking?
Zach and these other female social entrepreneurs have one thing in common - they had to look to new ways of organizing and fundraising because they are outside of the power structure.
How does this situation illustrate that merely rescuing girls from brothels is not enough?
What does Sunitha's position as a leader in her community illustrate?
Chapter Four - Rule by Rape
In this tradition of the Ethiopian countryside, how are women treated?
The authors are very economical in their description of Woineshet's harrowing ordeal. The point is not to exploit her trauma, but to focus on her courage in her fight for justice.
How does one even begin to change the culture? Who would need to initiate this change? Westerners?
This point illustrates how complex the issue of gender inequality really is.
Zoya's beliefs show that misogyny is
While this is a fantastic change from the usual non-action cases like Mukhtar receives, this is the exception and not the rule.
This situation is an example of what literary device?
It is pretty easy to determine the narrative voice (between Nick or Sherryl). Nick's sections are written primarily in first person, whereas Sherryl's sections are written in both first and third person.
What is the significance of this change in Mukhtar?
Define this term. Why do you think the authors repeatedly use this word throughout the entire book? (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter Five - The Shame of "Honor"
What does this terminology imply?
How would you characterize the tone of this section? Of the book as a whole? (This annotation contains a video)
What prevented Dina from getting medical attention?
This is another instance where women are seen and used as objects.
What could this kind of experience add to a person's education?
There is a difference between volunteering and slum tourism, but some might call it a fine line. What do you think? (This annotation contains a link)
How does the hospital help these women in the long term?
Chapter Six - Maternal Mortality—One Woman a Minute
The UN Resolution on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage was adopted recently. Read more about it here. (This annotation contains a link)
What have these women found in this hospital?
Catherine Hamlin continues to build new fistula hospitals in Ethiopia (there are currently four, with more in the works). (This annotation contains an image)
Identify some of the factors that make maternal mortality rates so low in places like Italy and Ireland.
Isolated and abandoned, it is no surprise that these women are prone to depression and suicidal thoughts. Places like Catherine Hamlin's hospital not only treat the physical trauma these women have experience, but the emotional trauma as well.
What earlier point, made by the authors, is strengthened by Allan Rosenfield's example here?
The "trained" aspect here is key. In some areas, midwives are not formally trained, and can do more harm than good (as illustrated in some of the women's tories in this book). (This annotation contains an image)
What did Rosenfield accuse the world's obstetricians of?
Chapter Seven - Why Do Women Die in Childbirth?
If a woman is diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, the onset of fatal seizures can be avoided (usually by delivering the child through cesarean section). (This annotation contains an image)
How do Prudence and Alain differ from the majority of married couples that have been introduced in the book? Does it matter?
Identify the different kinds of conflict at work here. (This annotation contains a video)
Having a better education would have helped Prudence for all of the following reasons EXCEPT
Docking pay is definitely good incentive to make sure that doctors are fulfilling their obligations, but it does not solve the problem of underserved areas where there is no medical personnel for miles and miles. (This annotation contains an image)
When it comes to the issue of maternal deaths, what is the difference between India and Sri Lanka?
The key here is giving these women and healthcare workers incentives, just as some schools pay students to go to school based on their attendance record. (This annotation contains an image)
Defend or argue against this practice of using staff without formal degrees in this capacity.
While this is true of all aid organizations, it is also true of the authors. Journalistic integrity requires that even though they are deeply invested in the subject matter, the authors must stick to the facts with no embellishment or 'creative' ways to spin statistics. The fact that Kristof and WuDunn won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting lends them credibility in this area. Read more about the authors in these brief biographies. (This annotation contains a link)
What made Edna's family "exceptional"?
Watch this video from the 'Half the Sky' documentary on treating fistulas at Edna's hospital. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the point of Edna insisting on this?
In many of these rural areas of Africa, superstitions and taboos have a strong hold on residents, even though they might be physically dangerous and harmful.
Chapter Eight - Family Planning and the "God Gulf"
What is the meaning of this quote? How does it apply here?
The UNFPA continues to do important work despite cuts in funding. Read this brief article on a Syrian refugee camp where the 3,000th baby was just delivered. Statistically, what is significant about this camp's record? (This annotation contains a link)
What has been the result of these cuts in aid and education?
Moral and ethical issues aside (and the hypocrisy of how many religious groups act contrary to religious doctrine), it is more cost effective to prevent the spread of AIDS than it is to treat patients who have contracted AIDS.
Those who advocate for abstinence-only campaigns in Africa make what incorrect assumption?
What is Gertrude worried about? How might her behavior have the opposite effect on her daughter than she intended?
Explain the correlation between school uniforms and the rate of pregnancy. Why do you think the first two tactics did not reduce pregnancies?
Consider the connotation of the term "God Gulf." What images does the word "gulf" invoke?
What do liberals and conservatives agree on?
34 Million friends is still going strong. Though they have not been able to raise $34 million, they have collected over $4 million in donations. (This annotation contains a link)
What made 34 Million Friends so successful?
Chapter Nine - Is Islam Misogynistic?
Read this editorial written by former president Jimmy Carter about religion and gender inequality. Why does Carter say that he is able to speak out against gender inequality while other leaders are more reluctant to do so? (This annotation contains a link)
Can you clarify what the difference is between the Koran and other holy texts? Why are these other texts more open to interpretation?
From Oxford Islamic Studies Online: "Mernissi 's work explores the relationship between sexual ideology, gender identity, sociopolitical organization, and the status of women in Islam; her special focus, however, is Moroccan society and culture. As a feminist, her work represents an attempt to undermine the ideological and political systems that silence and oppress Muslim women. She does this in two ways: first, by challenging the dominant Muslim male discourse concerning women and their sexuality, and second, by providing the 'silent' woman with a 'voice' to tell her own story." (This annotation contains an image)
What does Western concern for the issues of developing nations sometimes come across as?
How is this backwards? What would it take to change this dynamic?
According to this section, all of the following are contributing factors in the rise of violence and terrorism in Islamic countries EXCEPT
Read this brief article on women-only spaces in Saudi Arabia. Are these new spaces a step in the right direction, or regression? (This annotation contains a link)
What does the appearance of Corn Flakes in grocery stores represent?
Malala Yousafzai is probably the most famous example of how young girls were thwarted from getting an education by the Taliban. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 when she was just 17 years old. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the tone of Sakena's statement?
Chapter Ten - Investing in Education
In a TED Talk, Sheryl WuDunn said that being born in America is like "winning the lottery." Do you agree?
Why did they make this conversation "on the record"?
There is no such thing as a cure-all; at the same time, education does not seem to have harmed these economies, either.
How does this example of the feminine care products illustrate the complexity of administering aid in a different culture?
This program directly addresses the reasons why girls drop out of school. It is an investment in the child, with the hope that she will in turn help break the cycle of poverty. (This annotation contains an image)
What conclusion about aid did Rajan and Subramanian come to?
"Considered a neglected tropical disease, Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis) is a parasitic infection caused by the nematode roundworm parasite Dracunculus medenisis. It is contracted when people consume water from stagnant sources contaminated with Guinea worm larvae." (This annotation contains an image)
How did Angeline manage to go to school, for as long as she did, despite her family's lack of money?
Here is a video of Ann Cotton talking about the necessity of education for girls. What does she have to say about justice? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the difference between correlation and causation? What is the danger of muddling the two in reports?
Chapter Eleven - The Financial Revolution
A microloan is defined as a very small, short-term loan with a low interest rate, usually extended to a start-up company or self-employed person. Typically, these loans do not exceed $35,000. Microloans started as a solution for impoverished borrowers in underdeveloped countries. These kinds of loans and credit have empowered women throughout developing nations to start their own businesses and become more valued members of families that would otherwise treat them with brutality.
What is one reason why micofinancing has been so successful in protecting women from abuse?
Watch this video of Hilary Clinton on women and economic empowerment. (This annotation contains a video)
Which seminal feminist text addressed a similar situation in the framework of female authors?
Consider some of the factors behind these statistics. Why are such high amounts being spent on these (small) luxuries and vices?
What do you think accounts for this? What can you infer from these findings about women and economic power?
One participant in the Half the Sky 'movement,' Hilary Clinton, is currently running for president. If she wins, it will be interesting to see if she is willing to make these issues a priority. (This annotation contains an image)
What did women gain after they got the vote they didn't have before?
What is the effect of the author's use of imagery here? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the meaning of this adage?
Do you feel that males are portrayed inaccurately or unfairly in this book? (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter Twelve - The Axis of Equality
What opportunities did Zhang Yin take advantage of?
Adeline Yen Mah's memoir, "Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter" illustrates these points perfectly. Despite her hardships as an "unwanted daughter," Yen Mah triumphs and goes to medical school at Oxford and gains international success as an author. (She does come from a wealthy family, though). (This annotation contains an image)
What type of figurative language is used to describe Sheryl's grandmother's movements?
The authors acknowledge that this is contrary to what most Americans know about Chinese sweatshops. Recently Apple's Chinese factories have been in the news. Read this article and think about the complexities of this issue. (This annotation contains a link)
In Rwanda, what do women represent?
Génocidaires, from the French language for "those who commit genocide", refers to those guilty of the mass killings of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which close to 1,000,000, primarily Tutsi Rwandans, were murdered by their Hutu neighbors. (This annotation contains an image)
What does this illustrate about the world view? What is Claudine's realm of understanding about the world outside of her community?
Here is a picture of Zainab and family "friend" Saddam Hussein. (This annotation contains an image)
What was Zainab's main reason for keeping her association with Saddam Hussein a secret?
This video goes into more detail about what Women for Women International does to better the loves of women across the globe. (This annotation contains a video)
Chapter Thirteen - Grassroots vs. Treetops
This can cause so many different health problems for the woman in the future. The immediate risk, or course, is infection. Based on everything that you have read so far, why do you think this practice has been allowed to continue for so long?
What do these successful programs have in common?
This is not so shocking when you realize that teenagers are teenagers, no matter what part of the world they live in. "Teenagers go through a developmental stage in which they do not yet feel confident enough in their own identities or values to go against their peer group. Acceptance by peers can be more important to a teenager than doing the right thing, the safe thing or even the thing the teenager actually wants to do."
List the challenges faced by groups like Tostan in their crusade to end FGC.
Take a look at the chapters and main ideas of the book. Can you comment on how it is structured? What about the narrative structure within chapters? (This annotation contains a video)
Leaders like Jordana are also called
What do you think the authors' response would be to the recent rise in the anti-vaccine movement (as chronicled in this National Geographic article)? (This annotation contains a link)
Chapter Fourteen - What You Can Do
What rhetorical device is in use throughout the text on this page?
Kristof and WuDunn cite historical precedent of major social change to illustrate these paradigm shifts are possible.
What do the authors foresee in the not too distant future?
Here is an article on how Bangladesh manages to succeed against all odds. Take special note of the first reason cited. (This annotation contains a link)
What is the possible correlative factor in this rise of IQ scores?
Can you think of any other metaphors to describe the role of foreign aid?
Why do you think wealthy women disdained the suffragist movement? What might they have equated it to?
This entire book is a call to action. The point of this chapter is to direct the reader as to how they can make an effective difference in the movement toward gender equality.
What is the implied meaning of the epigraph in this context?
What point are the authors trying to make by publishing these emails?
Why do the authors write about their own contributions to the cause of women's rights?
Reading this book was the first step in making a difference. Visit some of these websites to determine whether or not you will continue to learn more about the situation, and/or donate your time and money.