A twenty-first century introduction to Half the Sky
My entire experience with Half the Sky (Nicholas Kristof's and Sheryl WuDunn's new book) has been so twenty-first century that I can't help but think that times really have changed. And girls and women stand to gain from these changes - I am inclined to believe the many smart and experienced people who are claiming that we have reached a tipping point on this issue: people (finally) get the vital importance of investing in girls and women. It is good for our families' health, our children's development, our economy's vitality, and indeed the security of our states and sustainability of our world. I started reading Half the Sky just last week on my brand new Kindle [what a treat]! Then, I saw a post on my Twitter feed from @GlobalGiving that they were giving away a spot in the call-in book party with the book's authors, as well as partners from Global Giving, CARE, and other organizations working for girls and women on front lines around the world (many of whom were cited in the book).
Before I go further, I'd like to share the origin of the book title: an ancient Chinese proverb, "Women hold up half the sky." This eminently Eastern piece of simple yet profound wisdom suits the 'girls and women issue' so ideally: a total no-brainer that nonetheless has a lot of deep and complex implications.
First, I was impressed by this conference call concept – low-income, easy access (800 number with an access code) way to get folks together to chat. The discussion was dynamic and interesting - Kristof made the valid point that his involvement, as a man, helps mainstream the cause of women. Several points of discussion revolved around the universality of this issue, and the relevance of both women and men in all regards. For example, many of the remarkable women profiled in the book recognized the importance of a supportive father (or father figure) in their lives, who facilitated the education, perspective or resources necessary to challenge a system that disadvantaged them.
When I asked about ways to bring men into the fold as champions for girls and women in their communities, the authors didn’t provide any concrete suggestions, but did emphasize that they already find many such male allies. From US-based callers to radio shows to tribal leaders, it was reassuring to hear that men around the world are already sticking their necks out for girls’ and women’s rights. WuDunn pointed out that many of the worst perpetrators of injustice against girls and women – slavery not least among them – are themselves women. These points should remind us not only what a complex issue this is, but also that it is something that no human being can afford to ignore.
Both Kristof and WuDunn cited the power of media to propagate ideas, another area in which these authors are well-positioned to get a lot of distance for any issue they adopt. They alluded to online social action planned to amplify the Half the Sky movement, including innovative tools like online gaming as well as increasingly mainstream outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
Congratulations to the authors, Fenton communications representative Amanda Fox, Global Giving and everyone who took part on this hyper-modern and extremely valuable conversation!