half the sky

Reflections on Half the Sky


Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (2009) is a best seller. It has sparked a movement with impressively famous spokespeople. So, yeah, I’m late to the party. But in case you haven’t read this important book, as I had not, I figured I should bring it to your attention.

Half the Sky is excellently written and researched. It is very educational about a wide range of issues faced by women around the world. And the authors use many personal stories to drive the narrative, which makes it readable. Obviously, it has impacted and mobilized a lot of people. But…

It is hard to look this much evil in the face. Kristof and WuDunn don’t pull punches in describing the brutal, inhumane reality faced by women and young girls in the majority world.

While I worked through this book, I was weepy and emotionally fragile throughout the day (which doesn’t really fly well with small kids). 30% of the way through, I was actively avoiding picking up the book. I do think it is important for people to read this book…but if you are already emotionally drained, depressed or exhausted, or someone with personal history of abuse or assault, it might be too dark a place for you to go right now. If that’s you, I hope that my reflections will help you to engage the topic in a safe space. And for those with the emotional capacity to pick up the book, you really, really should.

Note from Anna: I don’t think anyone enjoys reading this book. But these are real stories of real things happening in the world. We probably NEED to get weepy for our sisters, and then get outraged and then take all that energy we have and do something!

Me again…From the first page, the authors are very clear that their desire is to drive home the problem and present solutions that people can get behind, and thereby to create activists for the rights of women and girls. I love that the book is so clear about its purpose, and that the Half the Sky Movement is carrying that purpose forward. I applaud Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as true world changers. But I hold some reservations.

One primary thing we need to do, according to Kristof and WuDunn, is advocate for more educational opportunities for girls…but I find myself skeptical that education by itself is the answer. Even among the women profiled in the book, several had received more education than their peers and had parents supportive of education (which is how they broke the norms and spoke out against what happened to them). Yet that education didn’t prevent them from experiencing unspeakable atrocities.

They also advocate political pressure that will cause countries to better enforce laws that already exist to protect women and girls. In many cases, this could have good results. But political and social pressure seems to have no effect on warlords, rebel soldiers and extremist groups like Boko Haram. Plus, our political capital with the hardline Muslim countries cited as highly oppressive is questionable, at best.

Don’t get me wrong. I am 100% for education and enforcing just laws. When it comes to my own daughters, almost nothing trumps their safety, well-being and education in terms of how we spend our time and money. “Loving my neighbor as myself” requires that I work equally hard for girls everywhere to have the same rights and privileges my daughters have.

But it’s not enough. These are human solutions in a world that I believe is, at its core, spiritual. Without an injection of biblical worldview and the power of God, gender-based brutality cannot be overcome. I admit, it sounds pretty lame to say that when I learn about rape, abuse, sex-slavery, honor killings, and maternal mortality, my response is to pray for miracles. Lame or not, those are my heartbroken prayers, and I stand by them before God and the blogosphere.

Biblical Worldview and the power of God have been quietly transforming communities in Southeast Asia. In many of the communities where we work, wife-beating was universally accepted even among church leaders. In some communities, it was so bad that young women would run away, risking being trafficked, to avoid marriage to the abusive men in their village. Now Christians are learning biblical truth about women, marriage and family. Abuse has stopped, relationships have healed, families are whole. These are miracles. You can read some of their stories here.

That’s why I am thankful that TCT officially launched in DRC in February. Will you pray with me that we can see the same kind of transformation in DRC that we have seen in Asia?

Biblical Worldview and the power of God are exactly what I see in the work of Un Jour Nouveau, which was profiled on our blog on February 19 and 26. I am so thankful for their work in DRC, the rape capital of the world.

Biblical worldview and the power of God are the foundation we build on in our Ending Gendercide campaign in India, that is facing down these issues in a country considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world to be born female.

There are so many amazing organizations that are making a difference in the spiritual battle that is devastating women and girls around the world. I’d love to hear from you – what organizations would you recommend that are leaning on God’s truth and God’s power to bring change?

One thought on “Reflections on Half the Sky

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful critique, Glynka!! I also have followed the Half the Sky movement and am a fan of Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in general. It is encouraging to see so much attention being given to these issues. But it is frustrating that in the public-square discourse, it’s still mostly taboo to consider worldview and spiritual influences on our lives. I saw this in my classes at ASU–classes on community development, social justice, etc.–those environments as a whole still discount the power of people’s faith in their lives (perhaps it’s due to our Western/secular lenses). I think this will change as more stories emerge from Reconciled World and others. The proof is hard to deny; the transformation is hard to explain without acknowledging God’s powerful orchestration. So I believe it will speak for itself. Perhaps one day Nick Kristof will learn about what’s happening in Asia; to me, he seems like someone who is open to rethinking things, he’s generally honoring in his treatment of faith-based social organizations, and he has a passion for the vulnerable. Who knows?

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