As with Gladwell's other research based books, it was a quick and easily digestible read. It was interesting to see the link between success and cultuAs with Gladwell's other research based books, it was a quick and easily digestible read. It was interesting to see the link between success and culture, though the connections he made to opportunity and timing was very much common sense. There was nothing ground-breaking about the information presented but it validated the feeling that anyone can be successful, provided that s/he was born during the right time and provided ample opportunity to be set up for success....more
It was a bit of a slow build but once you hit Book II, it's hard to put down. You start to find yourself trying to unravel the story faster than the aIt was a bit of a slow build but once you hit Book II, it's hard to put down. You start to find yourself trying to unravel the story faster than the author is feeding you the words. It was an exercise in abstract story lines and impressions. It seemed that he was trying to convey a sense of a meta existence anchored in reality (whatever your idea of that is)....more
You can clearly hear the voice of Tina Fey, as we know it from her work on 30Rock and SNL. It was refreshing to see how sometimes passion can be transYou can clearly hear the voice of Tina Fey, as we know it from her work on 30Rock and SNL. It was refreshing to see how sometimes passion can be transformed into a viable option for making a living. If we could all be so lucky to find our way to doing what makes us happy...and others laugh!...more
Kristof and WuDunn do a wonderful job of presenting basic statistics and historical facts about the culture of oppression against girls and women in dKristof and WuDunn do a wonderful job of presenting basic statistics and historical facts about the culture of oppression against girls and women in developing countries. However, the stories they present are far from objective. They first provide a broad overview of the most pressing social issues, focusing on three particular abuses of women: “sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality”. Within each of these generalized areas, they present a more specific success story of how one woman was able to overcome the trauma of her experience, usually with dogged perseverance and the aid of some Western philanthropist or NGO. Their stated goal of writing this book is “to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts”. They present a few solutions that have “worked” thus far: investing in education, microfinance, and grassroots movements. Yet in reading their accounts, I could not shake the feeling of watching a movie through pinhole glasses. Perhaps that was the purpose: to paint a picture of triumph against seemingly insurmountable forces to draw out the compassion of the reader. After all, it seemed that authors were pushing towards convincing the “privileged Westerner” with his/her economic advantages and political freedoms to open the doors of opportunity for these women and girls to escape their fates. Kristof and WuDunn started with the most sensational topic: human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking and forced prostitution. It reminded me of a book I had read not too long ago: Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery, published by the American Anti-Slavery Group in 2008. The book was a collection of personal accounts of trafficking of all types, both abroad and domestically. In contrast to Enslaved, Kristof and WuDunn make it appear as though sex trafficking is a problem in developing nations, not one that also occurs within our borders. As someone who is familiar with the field, I am aware of several active trafficking rings and brothels within New York City alone. The placement of these chapters in the beginning of the book seemed to set up the “us” and “them” relationship. “We”, the enlightened men and women of the Western, developed, privileged nations, have a responsibility to help rectify the ills of the developing, impoverished nations that is keeping “them” imprisoned.
The authors themselves admitted that while presenting the reader with the sheer numbers of individuals affected by these crimes against women were persuasive, it was the personal stories that truly motivated the international community into action. As such, they cleverly divide each chapter into two sections: the first half, the dry facts about the issue and the second half, a case study of one woman who was able to “beat the odds”. We read about the power of rape in Africa and Asia, and then we were presented with Mukhtar Mai’s story. Mukhtar turned her experience of rape into motivation to change the political system, gaining the respect of her community and attention of the Western world. We read about the unnecessary death of women in childbirth and then we were presented with Edna Adan, who built a maternity hospital on the ruins of military parade grounds in the poor part of town. Even within the informational chapters, there were brief vignettes meant to illustrate the atrocities women face on a daily basis. This presents a very interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, the reader sees that women are being treated like second rate citizens; on the other, we are presented with women strong enough to stand up to the authorities and triumph. If this is the case, why hasn’t gender equality been established yet? The case studies clearly present the anomaly, not the majority. The women who were able to overcome had support from their families, from the local community and outside agencies, and generally some education. What about the rest of the women, who are less outspoken, have less access to resources and less education?
The authors did get one thing right; change needs to come from the community. Take the case of Usha Narayane, one of the Dalits (or Untouchables) in India. Her village was terrorized by Akku Yadiv, a high caste man who headed the gang that would attack women and children alike, simply because he could. The resolution came when the villagers realized they had the power to drive him out and took retribution into their own hands. I am in no way condoning murder, but it takes a community to band together to affect change. They further illustrated this point with Mortenson of “Three Cups of Tea” fame, whose work in building schools in Afghanistan involved the local community. What they did not explain is that his work took years and reached just a few communities, specifically those that were far enough removed from conflict to be sustained. What about those communities in the midst of conflict or ignored by governments? It takes people like Sakena Yacoobi, running secret underground schools for these communities to access education. If girls cannot learn openly, how can social and cultural change be made?
Let us assume that the girls were able to get enough schooling and learn a trade. Then the problem becomes, how will they make a livelihood when they are expected to stay home and bear sons? The solution is microfinance, seems simple and straightforward, right? Thousands have already benefited from small loans that helped them start up businesses or small stands. If poverty is the issue, then why aren’t men also included in this venture? As the primary breadwinner in these patriarchal societies, they are the ones who generally manage the finances. Kristof and WuDunn cite several studies that found “when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses”. It seems in empowering women, the men are left in the dust. Indeed, when looking at the case studies, when there is a man in the picture, he is usually cowed by his wife’s newfound confidence and success. For example, Goretti Nyabenda was in an abusive marriage and on the verge of breaking down when she found CARE. Soon, she was the primary income earner and “husband-tamer”. Or Saima, in the depths of depression because her husband wanted to take a second wife to bear him sons, suddenly found her life turned around by a small $65 microloan. She started her own embroidery business, was able to educate her three daughters and even recruited her husband to work for her.
While men often are the perpetrators in female oppression, they are also part of the solution to the “emancipation of women”, as the authors put it. Kristof and WuDunn mention Zach Hunter, who in middle school, founded an organization to fight modern day slavery but it was more in light of the fact that he was a social entrepreneur rather than a male advocate against sexual slavery. The oppression of women is not just a women’s issue, it is a cultural issue. As such, it can only be addressed by involving all those within the culture. Yes, it seems the men in the above case studies changed their tune when their wives asserted themselves but that is just two cases. Ultimately, progress can only be made when the value of women’s potential is recognized.
The issues of gender inequality that Kristof and WuDunn present are not new but they certainly have been overlooked in favor of causes that are more prominent. While the solutions they present have had some success in specific capacities, they are far from ready to be applied universally. They call for the involvement of “ordinary people” to help save these “oppressed women and girls”, yet is that really the solution? They illustrated how change in policy and law does not always translate into implementation and enforcement of such laws because the “women themselves absorb and transmit misogynistic values just as the men do”. They pointed out how UN resolutions and government protocols have failed to curb the sale of young girls or use of rape as a weapon of war. Since it is not enough to simply change laws, Kristof and WuDunn turn to education as the way to “enlighten” these women about their basic human rights, thereby giving them the ammunition to advocate for themselves. Are Westerners the experts on the liberation of women? They quote one Muslim woman saying, “we think it’s the Western women who are repressed, because they have to show their bodies … to please men.” The developing world is changing; pressure from the West and the United Nations has brought about small victories, however the issue of gender equity is like a Rubik cube. It’s not enough to align two or three blocks, you have to look at the whole picture and find all the pieces necessary to create real lasting change.
Kristof and WuDunn’s “Half the Sky” brings issues of gender inequality to popular Western culture. They point readers toward some facts about the ongoing struggle many girls and women face in developing nations. They highlight some of the difficulties of making progress in these areas, whether it is due to corruption of the government or the inability of foreign aid agencies to grasp the complex scope of the problems. They call for “ordinary people” to get involved. We have all walked down the streets of New York City and been approached by representatives from Children International or Save Darfur or Free Tibet. How often have we simply walked by these individuals without a second thought? This book appears to be a more intellectual and comprehensive method of recruiting compassionate individuals. I just wonder how effective it is in actually mobilizing a populace into action....more