Title:  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Authors:  Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu-Dunn
Release date:  September 8, 2009
Publisher:  Knopf
Pages:  320
Genre:  Nonfiction, Worldwide issues, Social justice
Source:  Library

Months ago, Eva and I discovered that we were both reading this book around the same time.  Actually, I discovered she was reading it and I decided I needed to read it too, based on her recommendation.  So we decided to do a co-review!  Unfortunately, life got in the way (for both of us) so we’re only posting now.  I’m going to skip summarizing the book myself in favor of the publisher’s summary, then I’ll move on to our thoughts.  Here’s the publisher’s summary:

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.

Eva:  Did you like the book more or less than you expected to?

Heather:  Hmm… I guess I would have to say that I liked it less than I expected to.  Unfortunately, I had hugely unattainable expectations that the book would be amazing.  I’m not sure why, but I did.  I definitely enjoyed Half the Sky, but I was just expecting a little more.  Perhaps the main issue was that I didn’t really learn anything from the book – I have studied women’s issues in the past, I’ve read a lot of feminist and womanist books, and I already had at least basic knowledge of all of the issues discussed in the book.  So while I enjoyed the perspective that this one had to offer, I didn’t really get anything earth-shattering out of it.  What about you, Eva – did you like it more or less than you expected to?  And was there anything that stuck out to you as new information that you hadn’t already read/studied/heard about before?

Eva: I enjoyed it more than I expected, because I tend to have low expectations from international relations-y books written by newspaper writers.  Nothing against journalists and columnists, but they rarely delve into the issues to the level of detail I’d get from a more academic author.  So I expected a book targeting people without a background in women’s issues.  I enjoyed it more, because they tried to keep the focus upbeat, and I liked their profiles of strong women.  :)  I especially liked it, because for anyone who has no background about the issues, I can recommend it.  I think for other readers, it might be earth-shattering; surely if everyone knew how many women died in childbirth, in such horrible ways, there’d be a campaign against it.

My favourite part of the book was the profiles they did of strong women around the world.  Who was your favourite profiled woman?

Heather:  Well, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!  I agree about the fact that it’s easily recommendable to people who don’t have a lot of background on these issues – which, really, should be the case because how else can women’s issues get discussed if they can’t be introduced to people with little prior knowledge of them?

I loved the profiles of strong women around the world, too.  My favorite profiled woman was Goretti Nyabenda, the woman in Brundi who formed her own CARE association, which in simplest terms is basically an investment club for poor women.  I thought this story was so amazing because of the huge contract between the way Goretti’s husband treated her before she gained some independence and then after she started making her own money and improving their family’s life.  It showed me that if this horrible-sounding man can change his opinions about women, anyone can.  It gave me a lot of hope.  Which of the profiled women gave you the most hope?

Now pop over to Eva’s blog, A Striped Armchair, to see the rest of our review!