Half the Sky (Kristof, WuDunn)

Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, 2009
Knopf Doubleday
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307387097

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bios
Nicholas Kristof
Birth—April 27, 1959
Raised—Yamhill, Oregon, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard; J.D., Oxford University
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in suburban New York City

Nicholas Donabet Kristof is an American journalist, author, op-ed columnist, and a winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. He has written an op-ed column for the New York Times since 2001.

Life and career
Kristof was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up on a sheep and cherry farm in Yamhill, Oregon. He is the son of Jane Kristof (nee McWilliams) and Ladis "Kris" Kristof (born Wladyslaw Krzysztofowicz), both long-time professors at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.

Nicholas Kristof graduated from Yamhill Carlton High School, where he was student body president and school newspaper editor, and later became a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard College. At Harvard, he studied government and worked on The Harvard Crimson newspaper; "Alums recall Kristof as one of the brightest undergraduates on campus," according to a profile in the Crimson.

After Harvard, he studied law at Magdalen College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. He earned his law degree with first-class honors and won an academic prize. Afterward, he studied Arabic in Egypt for the 1983–84 academic year. He has a number of honorary degrees.

New York Times
Kristof joined the New York Times in 1984, initially covering economics and later serving as a Times correspondent in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tokyo. He also covered presidential politics and is the author of the chapter on President George W. Bush in the reference book The Presidents. He rose to be the associate managing editor, responsible for Sunday editions.

In 2001 Kristof became a Times op-ed writer. His twice-weekly columns often focus on global health, poverty, and gender issues in the developing world. In particular, since 2004 he has written dozens of columns about Darfur and visited the area 11 times.

According to his New York Times bio, Kristoff has traveled to more than 150 countries—and not without incident. During his travels, he contracted malaria, was threatened by mobs, and survived an airplane crash. Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and The New Yorker, a Harvard classmate, once said...

I’m not surprised to see him emerge as the moral conscience of our generation of journalists. I am surprised to see him as the Indiana Jones of our generation of journalists.

Kristoff also pioneered the use of multimedia for the Times: he was both the first blogger on the paper's website and the first to make a video for the website. He also tweets, has Facebook and Google Plus pages and a YouTube channel. According to Twitter lists, he has more followers (almost 1.5 million) than any other print journalist in the world.

Kristof resides outside New York City with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and their three children. He enjoys running, backpacking, and having his Chinese and Japanese corrected by his children.

Because of his emphasis on human rights abuses and social injustices—namely, human trafficking and the Darfur conflict—the Washington Post said that Kristoff has "shaped the field of opinion journalism."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has called Kristof an "honorary African" for shining a spotlight on neglected conflicts.

Bill Clinton said of Kristof in 2009:

There is no one in journalism, anywhere in the United States at least, who has done anything like the work he has done to figure out how poor people are actually living around the world, and what their potential is.... So every American citizen who cares about this should be profoundly grateful that someone in our press establishment cares enough about this to haul himself all around the world to figure out what's going on....I am personally in his debt, as are we all.

In 2013 Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists, called Kristof "the conscience of international journalism."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation names Kristof as one of its inspirations. A January 1997 page-one article by Kristof, about child mortality in the developing world, helped forcus the couple's philanthropy on global health. A framed copy of that article hangs in the gallery of the Gates Foundation.

Kristof has co-authored four books with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn:

  • China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power (1994) and Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia (2000). The two books examine the cultural, social, and political situation of East Asia largely through interviews and personal experiences.
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009), a best-seller, the book was the basis of an award-winning PBS documentary, which featured WuDunn. The book was also made into a Facebook game with more than 1.1 million players.
  • A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity (2014) explores how altruism affects all of us and presents various ways that we can make a difference. It, too, became a widely watched PBS documentary in 2015, and featured Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, Alfre Woodard, Blake Lively, in early 2015.
Half the Sky
Perhaps the best known of Kristof and WuDunn's books is their 2009 Half the Sky, which hit the top of the bestseller charts. The idea for the book was sparked by the Tiananmen Square protests. After reporting on the 500 deaths from that event, the authors learned that some 39,000 girls died every year—far more than had died at Tiananmen—from being denied access to the same food and medical treatment offered to boys. Yet there was no mention or coverage of this stastic anywhere.

Stunned, Kristof and WuDunn decided to dig deeper into overall issues of gender, everywhere—sex trafficking, modern slavery, domestic violence, and rape as both weapon of war and form of "legal justice." The resulting book, Half the Sky, shines in a light onto the dark recesses of female oppression and abuse around the world. The book has since been called a classic, a call to arms, and even comparable in significance to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Carolyn Seen of the Washington Post called it one of the most important books she had ever reviewed, as did Counter Punch's Charles Larson.

Awards and recognition
1989 - George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting (on human rights and environmental issues).
1990 - Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting (with Sheryl WuDunn)
2006 - Media Web's Journalist of the Year
2007 - Fred Cuny Award for Prevention of Deaadly Conflict
2007 - U.S. News & World Report: one of "America's Best Leaders."
2008 - Anne Frank Award
2009 - Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Award (with WuDunn)
2009 - World of Children Lifetime Achievement Award (with WuDunn)
2011 - Harvard Kennedy School / Washington Post: one of seven "Top American Leaders."
2013 - Advancing Global Health Award from Seattle Biomed
2013 - Goldsmith Award for Career Excellence in Journalism by Harvard University
2013 - International Freedom Conductor by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. (The prevous "Conductor" was the Dalai Lama.)
(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 1/17/2016.)

Book Reviews

[T]his gripping call to conscience…tackles atrocities and indignities from sex trafficking to maternal mortality, from obstetric fistulas to acid attacks, and absorbing the fusillade of horrors can feel like an assault of its own. But the poignant portraits of survivors humanize the issues, divulging facts that moral outrage might otherwise eclipse.
Irshad Manji - New York Times Book Review

Half the Sky is a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, but also a call for volunteers. It asks us to open our eyes to this enormous humanitarian issue. It does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material. It provides us with a list of individual hospitals, schools and small charities so that we can contribute to, or at least inform ourselves about, this largely unknown world. I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed. I may be wrong, but I don't think so.
Carolyn See - Washington Post

Urgent.... Passionate... Compelling.... Half the Sky is a grab-the-reader-by-the-lapels wake-up call.
Bill Williams - Boston Globe

Superb.... As Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring once catalyzed us to save our birds and better steward our earth, Half the Sky stands to become a classic, spurring us to spare impoverished women these terrors, and elevate them to turn around the future of their nations.
Susan Ager - Cleveland Plain Dealer

While we rightly roared at racial apartheid, we act as though gender apartheid is a natural, immutable fact.  With absolutely the right Molotov cocktail of on-the-ground reporting and hard social science, Kristof and WuDunn blow up this taboo. . . . A thrilling manifesto for advancing freedom for hundreds of millions of human beings.
Johann Hari  -  Slate.com

The most important book of the year.... Half the Sky is the kind of book that could change the course of history.
William Petrocelli - Huffington Post

New York Times columnist Kristof and his wife, WuDunn, a former Times reporter, make a brilliantly argued case for investing in the health and autonomy of women worldwide. “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century,” they write, detailing the rampant “gendercide” in the developing world, particularly in India and Pakistan. Far from merely making moral appeals, the authors posit that it is impossible for countries to climb out of poverty if only a fraction of women (9% in Pakistan, for example) participate in the labor force.
Publishers Weekly

Kristof and WuDunn...expose the brutal horrors endured by millions of women throughout Asia and Africa, putting names and faces to these individuals and their suffering. They argue that the key to change is social entrepreneurs who can empower at the grassroots level through such means as education and microloans. —Risa Getman, Hendrick Hudson Free Lib., Montrose, NY
Library Journal

Critics, universally inspired by Half the Sky, used their reviews as an opportunity to take up its message. They praised not only Kristof and WuDunn's clear moral stance and explanation of the issues but also the way they combined individual women's stories and practical advice to give the book an optimistic tone. Reviewers pointed out some flaws, particularly the authors' focus on individual action...while neglecting to criticize the policies of Western governments.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning husband-and-wife reporter team track the growing movement to empower women in the developing world. Kristof and WuDunn (Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia, 2000, etc.) traveled through Africa and Southeast Asia meeting with victims of sex trafficking, forced prostitution and various forms of gender-based neglect and violence, as well as interviewing those who are making a difference in the lives of impoverished and abused women. While they provide historical background and cite grim statistics to back their claims of oppression, the impact of their report comes from the personal stories of remarkable women.... The authors are especially effective at getting women to speak openly about their lives, and ....the authors' willingness to say what is politically incorrect: When microloans aremade to men, the money is likely to go toward instant gratification-alcohol, drugs and prostitutes-while women are more apt to spend it on family health and educating children.... Intelligent, revealing and important.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. "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” (p. xvii). Why is the dire state of women in impoverished cultures, as set out by the authors in the introduction, also a great opportunity for them?

2. “The modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms than the Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 11).  Given the scale of the problem, what do Kristof and WuDunn suggest as reasonable efforts towards ending human trafficking?

3. What do the stories about Srey Momm and Srey Neth indicate about the complexities of the trafficking problem in places like Thailand and Cambodia? Why do Kristof and WuDunn say “it’s most productive to focus efforts on prevention and putting brothels out of business” (p. 45)?

4. What difficulties do “the new abolitionists,” like Sunitha Krishnan and Abbas Be, face in trying to shut down the brothel trade? How does Sunitha’s story highlight the kind of bravery required to save women from enslavement in brothels?

5. The judge in the rape and kidnapping case of Woineshet, in Ethiopia, disapproved of the fact that this young girl was insisting on prosecuting her rapist: “He wants to marry you. Why are you refusing?” (p. 65). How is this story emblematic of the much larger problem of “tradition” in countries like Ethiopia?

6. Kristof and WuDunn argue that “universities should make it a requirement that all graduates spend at least some time in the developing world” (p. 88), and that “time spent in Congo and Cambodia might not be as pleasant as in Paris, but it will be life-changing” (p. 89). Do you agree that young Americans should be required to widen their knowledge by direct experience? How might such a requirement change the lives of young Americans, and their view of poverty and privilege?

7. How does the story of Prudence Lemokouno illustrate the dangers of pregnancy and delivery in the developing world (pp. 109–13)? Does it seem an obvious and desirable principle that reproductive health should be considered an international human rights issue, as argued by Dr. Allan Rosenfield (p. 122)?  What does the example of Sri Lanka prove about the possibilities of reducing women’s mortality rates in childbirth?

8. Muslim nations are among those in which women are most severely disadvantaged; so the authors directly address the question of whether Islam is misogynistic (p. 150).  What do they conclude?  What are the best ways to address the frustrations of women like Ellaha, who feel trapped in conservative Muslim cultures where women are at the mercy of their male relatives (pp. 156–57)? Is religion part of the reason for the oppression of women? Is it part of the solution?

9. The authors present a great deal of information about the troubles surrounding the education of girls. Discuss the thorny problems raised in chapter ten, “Investing in Education” (pp. 167–78), and the ways that Ann Cotton has succeeded in addressing many of them with her Camfed project in Zimbabwe (pp. 179–83).

10. Chapter Eleven, “Microcredit: The Financial Revolution,” focuses on the positive changes that are possible when you lend women money to start businesses, or when women have control of the family purse. Is it surprising to learn that when men control family spending, more is spent on beer and prostitutes, and when women are in control more is spent on food and education (pp. 192–93)? Does India’s law, assuring that one third of village leaders will be women, suggest that putting more women in positions of political power will make the world a better place for children?

11. Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to expose the truths about the cruel and gruesome conditions endured by the slaves in the British slave trade (pp. 235–36). Their work is a model for the political effectiveness of bringing atrocities to the forefront of the public mind and conscience. What realities were brought to light for you, as you read this book? What details or stories would you consider most provocative, disturbing, or inspiring for middle-class readers?

12. With the stories they recount in this book, Kristof and WuDunn hope to convince readers to help bring about changes that are desperately needed in the developing world. How effective would you predict Half the Sky will be in its effort to create new activists, donors, and volunteers for the international women’s movement (p. 237)?

13. Kristof and WuDunn make three specific recommendations for immediate action: “A $10 billion effort over five years to educate girls,” focusing on Africa but also encouraging Afghanistan and Pakistan to do better; a drive to iodize salt in poor countries, to improve I.Q. points lost to iodine deficiency in utero; and a twelve-year, $1.6 billion campaign to eradicate obstetric fistula and to reduce maternal mortality (pp. 246–47). What do you think about this vision? What has reading the book done to your sense of what needs to be done and what kinds of action might be most effective? Has reading the book inspired you to develop an action strategy or a personal plan to join the movement to address some of these issues? What kinds of actions personally do you think would be the most effective?

14. Jonathan Haidt has written in The Happiness Hypothesis that “a connection to something larger” can greatly affect our feelings of happiness. As Kristof and WuDunn suggest, “we are neurologically constructed so that we gain huge personal dividends from altruism” (p. 250). Do you feel this to be true? Do you feel, upon finishing this book, that you can have a direct impact on helping to turn women in impoverished parts of the world “into full-fledged human beings” (p. 251)?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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