Series Intro Found Here
Today we start our journey on Finding Feminism, beginning with –
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Trigger Warning: Extreme violence, both sexual and physical referenced and discussed.
World renowned journalists, Pulitzer Prize winners, a couple — this amazing husband and wife set out on a journey to better understand not only the plight of women around the world, but also to reveal how women could come together to help create solutions for themselves.
To turn their oppression into an opportunity for empowerment…
To turn their tears and pain, into a hopeful and joyous future…
In order to accomplish this the authors’ begin with a roadmap stating,
We will try to lay out an agenda for the world’s women focusing on three particular abuses: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute. (xxi)
So let’s follow that roadmap and see where it leads…
Our own estimate is that there are 3 million women and girls (and a very small number of boys) worldwide who can be fairly termed enslaved in the sex trade. This is a conservative estimate that does not include many others who are manipulated and intimidated into prostitution. Nor does it include millions more who are under eighteen and cannot meaningfully consent to work in brothels. We are talking about 3 million people who in effect are the property of another person and in many cases could be killed by their owner without impunity. (p. 10)
What is causing this growing sex trade? The authors list the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and Indochina, globalization, and lastly the spread of AIDS as three primary reasons. The first two create demand and access, the third creates a vicious cycle of high death tolls among women in the trade creating a higher demand for younger girls believed to not be infected. (pp. 11-12)
The stories of the women haunt you.Women like Meena and Geeta in India, who were pimped out at the young age of 12, both by their aunts, both beaten, and both repeatedly raped. (pp. 7, 29) Women like Momm in Cambodia, who was freed after five years in the trade, only to return of her own volition a few weeks later because of an addition to methamphetamines. (p. 39) With stories and pictures like these, how can you not cry? How can someone overcome that kind of oppression, pain, abuse, degradation, and utter abandonment?
Gender Based Violence
Rape. Beatings. Acid Attacks. Genital Mutilation. Honor Killings. The violence, suffering, pain, and darkness are numbing to think about.
Perhaps it would be easy for the authors to use the data and statistics to launch into a tirade against the evils of men, in developing countries around the world. Instead however, they chillingly report,
In talking about misogyny and gender-based violence, it would be easy to slip into the conceit that men are the villains. But it’s not true. Granted, men are often brutal to women. Yet it is women who routinely manage brothels in poor countries, who ensure that their daughters genitals are cut, who feed sons before daughters, who take their sons but not daughters to clinics for vaccination. …In short, women themselves absorb and transmit misogynistic values, just as men do. This is not a tidy world of tyrannical men and victimized women, but a messier realm of oppressive social customs adhered to by men and women alike. (pp. 67-69)
Picture caption reads: Protection of civilians and gender-based violence remains a primary concern in most areas of DRC. Mass rapes, abductions, and forced recruitment of children carried out by armed groups continue to take place. The European Commission is funding activities such as treatment and counselling for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. © Solidarites, 2012
The stories bring the violence to life, and break your heart as you see father against child, husband against wife, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, mother against child.
Stories of women like Zoya in Afghanistan, who was beaten with an electric cable by her husband until she fell unconscious, and later the next day was tied down by her father-in-law so that her mother-in-law could whip the soles of her feet. Her crime? Kicking back at her mother-in-law during a previous beating. (pp. 68-68) Women like Du’a Aswad, a 17 year old girl living in Iraq, stoned to death for being found out, after staying out all night with a boy she fell in love with. (p. 82)
Picture Caption Reads: The wooden table is where women are supposed to give birth as the centre lacks an appropriate table. As it is too high they use the floor instead. Less than 50% of women in Guinea give birth in a health centre. This contributes to the shockingly high maternal mortality. We are working to change this.
Poor health care. Poor hospital conditions. Rural, poor, and abused who then get pregnant. Again the statistics are overwhelming: (Stats below are listed on pp. 98-99)
- In India, a woman has a 1-70 chance of dying in childbirth.
- In the West African country of Niger, women face a 1 in 7 chance of dying in childbirth.
- Subsaharan African women face a maternal mortality rate of 1 in 22.
- Women in the United States? 1 in 4,800.
- Lifetime risk of maternal death is one thousand times higher in a poor country than in the West.
- Maternal morbidity (injuries in childbirth) occurs eve more often than maternal mortality.
- For every woman who dies in childbirth, at least ten suffer significant injuries such as fistulas or serious tearing.
- Unsafe abortions cause the deaths of seventy thousand women annually and cause serious injuries to another 5 million.
If the numbers and stats begin to blur, becoming that much harder to comprehend, one woman’s story manages to sear them into your memory forever.
Simeesh Segaye, a 19 year old girl who labored for two days straight to no avail. Two more days later after finally getting to a hospital, she found the baby had died inside her. If that weren’t enough, Simeesh returned to her village only to develop a fistula that caused her to lose control of her own waste. Not knowing what to do and ostracized by the entire village, she lived in a separate hut curled up in a fetal position in her own waste for two years. She quit eating, hoping she would die. Thankfully the story doesn’t end there. Miracle of miracles she eventually gets taken to a Fistula specialty hospital, where after months of physical therapy, a colostomy, more surgery, followed by more physical therapy she is finally able to walk and live without shame. (pp. 100-102)
This book is heavy. If you are like me, you have to read it slowly. Putting it down and coming back, because the pit it leaves in your stomach and the tears burning your eyes become too much. How are we to ever overcome so much pain? What are we to do with this? How do we hold this heavy burden?
The beauty of this book is that it doesn’t just end with the stories of women beaten, broken, and dying. It ends with telling how these women are standing up, speaking out, striking back, pursuing education, starting their own businesses, organizing their communities, educating other women, fighting for their futures…
It ends with hope, and a call for us to help.
Being completely honest, at several points when I first read this book, and then again when I was going back through it to write this post, doubt and guilt screamed at me that because of my privilege of being fortunate enough to be born into the country, the family, the socioeconomic status, the time, and the place where I was born that I shouldn’t even speak. That I haven’t earned a right to speak like these precious women who have gone through so much more. But then I remembered that Comparison is evil like that, in that it wants us to use guilt and shame to so completely negate ourselves that we would completely miss an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless.
So instead of dishonoring these women by becoming paralyzed by their pain, let’s find the courage to listen, to learn, to act, to speak up, and to help.
Kristof and WuDunn commence with this challenge:
The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings. The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction. Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings, and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding. The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete–and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander?
So the question remains, what are we going to do?
- Head over to the Half the Sky Movement site, and consider joining them here: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/pages/act
- Want to put your shopping money to good use, and support women while doing it? Check out this list of women vendors: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/pages/buy-for-good
- For an extensive list of NGOs and Nonprofits that are helping women around the world see their volunteer link here: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/pages/volunteer
- Check out this women’s outreach ministry opportunity found through the She Loves Magazine community: http://www.watoto.com/livinghope/projects/
- Another great US organization is Heifer International:
- For some great projects they have helping women specifically look here: http://www.heifer.org/gift-catalog/empowerment/index.html
In the end, Feminism in its most basic, needed message reminds us that people have inherent value, regardless of gender in a world that today still violently says otherwise. Let us find that feminism and live it by loving, giving, and sharing it with the world around us.
- What story spoke to you the most from Half the Sky?
- What should our role as western women be in pursuing feminism and helping to empower women around the world?
- How do things like comparison, prejudice, ignorance, and privilege hold us back or distract us from focusing on what’s truly important?
- How do we as women in the western world also contribute to misogyny, sexism, abuse, victim blaming, inequality, and a lesser treatment of women?
Please join in the discussion, as I would love to hear your thoughts!