Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

One of the greatest ways that people all over the world can get involved in fighting slavery and the oppression of women and young girls is becoming part of a movement.  I’ve decided to highlight the Half the Sky Movement, because it was only a year ago that they opened up my eyes to the reality of sexual slavery and oppression to helpless women.  Within the struggles of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, there is gender-based violence that is beginning to be fought.  Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote the novel, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide in 2009 in order to encourage readers all over the world to take action. 

This book is a call to all to fight in the oppression of women’s rights within the developing world.  This novel takes a look into Africa and Asia, interviewing and meeting with women and retelling their stories.  Their stories range from Cambodian teenagers sold into sex slavery and Ethiopian women who suffer devastating injuries from childbirth.  Stories of sadness, clarity and ultimately hope are what fuel their story, and they hope that the stories that they report of can transform the lives of women all around the world.  Economic progress is the one of the main strategies that Kristof and WuDunn express in order to unleash women’s potential and give them more opportunities.

Here is an excerpt from the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

“ONE OF THE MANY aid groups that for pragmatic reasons has increasingly focused on women is Heifer International, a charitable organization based in Arkansas that has been around for decades. The organization gives cows, goats and chickens to farmers in poor countries. On assuming the presidency of Heifer in 1992, the activist Jo Luck traveled to Africa, where one day she found herself sitting on the ground with a group of young women in a Zimbabwean village. One of them was Tererai Trent.

Tererai is a long-faced woman with high cheekbones and a medium brown complexion; she has a high forehead and tight cornrows. Like many women around the world, she doesn’t know when she was born and has no documentation of her birth. As a child, Tererai didn’t get much formal education, partly because she was a girl and was expected to do household chores. She herded cattle and looked after her younger siblings. Her father would say, Let’s send our sons to school, because they will be the breadwinners. Tererai’s brother, Tinashe, was forced to go to school, where he was an indifferent student. Tererai pleaded to be allowed to attend but wasn’t permitted to do so. Tinashe brought his books home each afternoon, and Tererai pored over them and taught herself to read and write. Soon she was doing her brother’s homework every evening.

The teacher grew puzzled, for Tinashe was a poor student in class but always handed in exemplary homework. Finally, the teacher noticed that the handwriting was different for homework and for class assignments and whipped Tinashe until he confessed the truth. Then the teacher went to the father, told him that Tererai was a prodigy and begged that she be allowed to attend school. After much argument, the father allowed Tererai to attend school for a couple of terms, but then married her off at about age 11.

Tererai’s husband barred her from attending school, resented her literacy and beat her whenever she tried to practice her reading by looking at a scrap of old newspaper. Indeed, he beat her for plenty more as well. She hated her marriage but had no way out. “If you’re a woman and you are not educated, what else?” she asks.

Yet when Jo Luck came and talked to Tererai and other young women in her village, Luck kept insisting that things did not have to be this way. She kept saying that they could achieve their goals, repeatedly using the word “achievable.” The women caught the repetition and asked the interpreter to explain in detail what “achievable” meant. That gave Luck a chance to push forward. “What are your hopes?” she asked the women, through the interpreter. Tererai and the others were puzzled by the question, because they didn’t really have any hopes. But Luck pushed them to think about their dreams, and reluctantly, they began to think about what they wanted.

Tererai timidly voiced hope of getting an education. Luck pounced and told her that she could do it, that she should write down her goals and methodically pursue them. After Luck and her entourage disappeared, Tererai began to study on her own, in hiding from her husband, while raising her five children. Painstakingly, with the help of friends, she wrote down her goals on a piece of paper: “One day I will go to the United States of America,” she began, for Goal 1. She added that she would earn a college degree, a master’s degree and a Ph.D. — all exquisitely absurd dreams for a married cattle herder in Zimbabwe who had less than one year’s formal education. But Tererai took the piece of paper and folded it inside three layers of plastic to protect it, and then placed it in an old can. She buried the can under a rock where she herded cattle.

Then Tererai took correspondence classes and began saving money. Her self-confidence grew as she did brilliantly in her studies, and she became a community organizer for Heifer. She stunned everyone with superb schoolwork, and the Heifer aid workers encouraged her to think that she could study in America. One day in 1998, she received notice that she had been admitted to Oklahoma State University.

Some of the neighbors thought that a woman should focus on educating her children, not herself. “I can’t talk about my children’s education when I’m not educated myself,” Tererai responded. “If I educate myself, then I can educate my children.” So she climbed into an airplane and flew to America.

At Oklahoma State, Tererai took every credit she could and worked nights to make money. She earned her undergraduate degree, brought her five children to America and started her master’s, then returned to her village. She dug up the tin can under the rock and took out the paper on which she had scribbled her goals. She put check marks beside the goals she had fulfilled and buried the tin can again.

In Arkansas, she took a job working for Heifer — while simultaneously earning a master’s degree part time. When she had her M.A., Tererai again returned to her village. After embracing her mother and sister, she dug up her tin can and checked off her next goal. Now she is working on her Ph.D. at Western Michigan University.

Tererai has completed her course work and is completing a dissertation about AIDS programs among the poor in Africa. She will become a productive economic asset for Africa and a significant figure in the battle against AIDS. And when she has her doctorate, Tererai will go back to her village and, after hugging her loved ones, go out to the field and dig up her can again.

There are many metaphors for the role of foreign assistance. For our part, we like to think of aid as a kind of lubricant, a few drops of oil in the crankcase of the developing world, so that gears move freely again on their own. That is what the assistance to Tererai amounted to: a bit of help where and when it counts most, which often means focusing on women like her. And now Tererai is gliding along freely on her own — truly able to hold up half the sky.”

In 2012, the four-hour television series from PBS and international broadcast, shot in ten countries featured Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide inspired by the book of Kristof and WuDunn.  This documentary featured women and young girls living in some of the most difficult situations within their third world, developing countries.  The following celebrities were a part of the project in order to raise awareness: America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde.

Below you will be able to see the trailer for the 4 part television series that will give you a look into Half the Sky.  It will change you.  Once you have experienced, once you have seen, once you been a part of something larger than yourself, you won’t ever be the same.  To take another step deeper into the reality of sexual slavery and the demise of human rights, I encourage you to firstly read Half the Sky and then watch the 4 part documentary.  It is worth your time and money, and I hope through that process that it is transformative.

 

Sources

Kristof, N. D., & WuDunn, S. (2009). Half the sky: Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

http://www.worldcat.org/title/half-the-sky-turning-oppression-into-opportunity-for-women-worldwide/oclc/290466888

http://www.halftheskymovement.org

http://www4.ncsu.edu/~dsbeckma/222HalftheSky.html