30 October 2010

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Vintage)Julie recommended this a few days as a must read and she's right.  This is an excellent book in many ways about what needs to be done around the world to help women.  If you do much reading about women's issues, there won't be anything new here, but to have chapters on fistulas, schools, rape, etc, all in one place in an accessible book is important.

There's a lot in here.  There are plenty of stories about individual women (the authors are obviously relying on the statistic that people are much more likely to help a specific woman than to donate to a cause that generally helps women).  Many stories, especially at the beginning of the book, are horrifying.  But many of the stories are hopeful too.  I don't think they tell any story of a woman where there is no hope.

I appreciated the chapter on whether Islam is misogynistic.  They don't gloss over the statistics that show that women are very often mistreated in Muslim countries, but they don't blame Islam itself; instead, Muslim societies are blamed for allowing so many women to be killed and mistreated.  They also make the important point that Muslim women don't need us to tell us what we think is wrong with them.  They don't let anyone else off the hook either, from conservative Christians who promote abstinence-only methods to avoid HIV to the American feminist movement that is far too parochial and dogmatic and plenty of people in between.  They've also spent a lot of time in these countries, talking to these women, and have seen a lot of what works and what doesn't. 

I also think it's important for people to understand that "women themselves absorb and transmit misogynistic values, just as men do...the greatest challenge is to change ways of thinking."  There is no doubt in my mind that a significant reason why women are treated so poorly in so much of the world is because everyone thinks it's okay.  Education is vital because it changes the way women see themselves.  And that's what changes their world.

I kept wishing I had a book group to talk about this book and marked lots and lots of things in the book (I never kept track of anything in a book till I started reading ebooks and I love it now).  This would be an excellent choice for a book group.  There's a lot more in here to talk about, but that's it for this post.


  1. I've been considering making this book an online discussion group on WAVE as part of the Women's Service Mission. I've heard many women recommend it recently and I'll get a hold of it soon now that I know I can access it as an ebook. What do you think about me starting the discussion without actually reading it first? Is that kosher?

  2. It's probably okay, but it seems like it would be better for you to have read it in case you need to get the discussion going. At the very least, you'd want some good questions to ask now. The book is less than 300 pages and quick to read, so I don't think it would take long for you to get through it.

    It might be a good idea to select the book and announce it, then wait a few weeks to start the discussion to give people a chance to read it and talk about it together. But however you decide to do it, I'm sure it'll be good.