Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Club: Half the Sky

Book club meeting! A night totally dominated by us munching on doughnuts!
Kristen (left), Oscar (dog), Emma (middle), Julie (right)
"If you care about poverty you must understand it, not just oppose it. And understanding poverty comes from spending time observing it directly." (p.248)

Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn explore the oppression of women across the globe in their book Half the Sky. The content of Half the Sky is heavy. The chapters are filled with information and stories surrounding issues of sex trafficking, gender based violence and maternal mortality.

Despite the heaviness of the subject matters explored, the book is a beacon of light. Kristof and Wudunn relay the grim details of the pain of fistula patients, the systematic use of rape in war, and the brutal reality of young girls being forced to work in brothels without leaving their reader completely in a state of despair. Instead, they inspire readers with stories of people who are working on the grassroots level to create meaningful change.

 Dr. Sunitha Kirshnan in India, one of the founders of the Prajwala organization, is one of the inspiring leaders featured in Half the Sky.  Dr. Kirshnan co-founded Prajwala to serve displaced prostitutes and their children when one of the oldest red light districts of Hyderadad City was evacuated in 1996. Today Prajwala is still in operation. The organization works to fight against sex trafficking by implementing programs involving "rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and community based prevention".

Beyond using individual stories for inspiration, Kristof and Wudunn also empower readers to take action. They deliver the message continually throughout the book to "...never give up. Helping people is difficult and unpredictable and our interventions don't always work, but successes are possible, and these victories are incredibly important" (p.45). Additionally, the book concludes with concrete solutions and a list of credible organizations accepting volunteers and/or monetary donations.

Overall, Half the Sky is a great read. Its reignited a fire inside me to stay engaged in dialog and community organizing efforts surrounding issues of human rights and social justice. Despite my criticisms of the book having ethnocentric tendencies, and an overwhelming promotion of capitalism as the only viable economic solution to improve the circumstances of impoverished individuals in the "third world," I still highly recommend placing Half the Sky on your reading list. This book will touch your heart and force you to critically think about your place in this world.

*Book Club Update!
Thank you Kristen for picking Half the Sky as our first book club read. In May we will be reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The date of our next meeting will be at the end of May, but is still TBD. A movie version of The Help is being released this summer, so take this opportunity to read it before heading out to the theatre. Stay tuned for further updates about book club -- we welcome all who have a love of books, food, wine and laughter filled discussions!!

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