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GPP Co-founder SImon Moss & GPP Intern Jessica Wild review the soon to be released book 'Half the Sky'.
After reading Half the Sky by Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, we were both simply blown away.
We have both read our fair share of books on the issues of poverty and injustice but this book was absolutely unique. We were so inspired that we worked to form a partnership with the publisher Virago, so that we could support its release and enable as many people as possible to read it.
Taking its name from a Chinese proverb – “Women hold up half the sky,” the book is a series of stories stitched together by analysis about the causes and consequences of discrimination against women in some of the world’s poorest countries. Taking a vigilantly positive line, even with some harrowing stories, it focuses on the importance of empowering women to transform their own lives, and the lives of their families and communities.
Its beauty lies in the recognition that regardless of where people are from, there’s a common thread of humanity that runs through our lives in the hopes, aspirations, fears and concerns we all share. Through the eyes of various women of the Global South, Wudunn and Kristof document stories of the incredible courage, determination, strength and bravery of some of the women around the world who battle against not only poverty, but extreme discrimination and oppression.
Stories of sex slaves who long to be loved again, women with acid poured on their faces who are determined to create a better future for their kids, and stories of women and men in countries all over the world who are moved to support, promote and enable those in the poorest countries to lift themselves out of poverty.
Reading this book you are reminded of the deeply entrenched injustice that faces far too many on our planet. As we discuss in our presentation 1.4 Billion Reasons, and as Half the Sky notes – women account for half of the world’s population, but three-fifths of those in live in extreme poverty. Women work two thirds of the world’s working hours, but earn just 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s assets.
Half the Sky gives these women a name, gives them a face, and gives them a voice. A voice that rises proudly from the pages of the book to declare, in the words of Goretti, a woman from Burundi,
“Before, I underestimated myself. I wouldn’t say anything to anybody. Now I know I have good ideas, and I tell people what I think.”
As the book so clearly identifies, the empowerment of women is central to the task of eradicating poverty; they are the solution, not the problem. It is a truly inspirational account which uniquely outlines how some of obstacles we face in the fight against poverty can be overcome.
It is a powerful tool for campaigning, to mobilise people, and to affect real and long-lasting change. If you read just one book about why fighting poverty and injustice matters, read this one. We challenge anyone not to be moved and inspired by it.
As we have seen through the stories of Kakenya and Exildah women and girls achieve amazing things when given equal access to education and a space in which they can fulfill their potential. I saw this first hand a few years ago when I volunteered in the tiny country of Belize and then in its neighbour, Guatemala – both times working with NGOs that worked to empower women through education and advocacy.
In Belize I worked with women and girls from poorer communities to create opportunities for education. While education is essentially “free”, compulsory uniforms and school registration fees pose a significant obstacle to education for many children. Women are not considered potential bread winners for the family, so if a family can’t afford to send all their children to school, it is the girls who are held back first.
Young women also have little or no access to reproductive education or family planning information because most schools are affiliated with religious organisations that don’t do sex education. This means often young women become mothers too early and don’t get a chance to complete their education. High HIV prevalence rates worsen the situation for women.
Finally, a staggering amount of women in Belize suffer domestic abuse. Domestic violence poses a significant obstacle to education and equal opportunity. Women living in violence are less likely to seek equal rights or opportunities for themselves or their children, particularly female children, due to fear, or a belief they are not deserving of their rights.
Access to computers and the internet is something that most of us take for granted. It’s also a mark of our technological advancement and educational opportunity. Many females in poorer Belizean communities do not have the opportunity to complete their education, let alone access to computers and computer training.I therefore decided to run computer training workshops for young women, no longer in school, from within two of my then local communities. After managing to acquire some (very old) computers, I set about running the workshops once I had got the donated computers working. They had been hauled straight out of the nineties and had not been touched since!The workshops were publicised throughout the communities and the response I received from women was incredible. I had planned to run the workshops once a week but with the overwhelming response I had, with women queuing out the door to sign up, I ended up running the workshops several nights a week. When asked what they most wanted to learn, the women unanimously stated that they wanted to learn to use the internet and to send emails.After running the workshops for ten weeks, all the women learnt to send emails and use the internet. This was wonderful to see, especially considering that when many of the women started they did not know that a mouse was anything other than a small, hairy cheese-loving rodent..
While it may seem a small thing enabling women to use the technology we so readily take for granted on a daily basis, for these women it gave them the opportunity to begin to pursue their ambitions in a space in which they were comfortable, and free to learn.We all share similar dreams and aspirations, regardless of where or who we are. What differs is where in the world we were born, and the opportunities we are given to achieve our dreams. As I stood amongst a gaggle of women learning to the use the internet in Belize, I realised that if everyone’s to have these opportunities, we’re going to need to work together.
As we continue to focus on MDG3 this week, Exildah tells her story in the video above. Her
story, like Kakenya’s (See Blog Below), supports findings that the education of women is by far one of the most effective tools to lift a community out of poverty.
Statistics have shown that when you educate a girl she will earn up to 25% more,
reinvestment in her community will increase, she is less likely to contract HIV, and she will
have a smaller, healthier family.
Education improves the life of Exhildah and her family, and also ensures the long term
sustainability of an otherwise struggling community. Access to education for Exildah, means
access to healthcare for her community.
So, in receiving an education, Exildah is not only provided with the chance to fulfil her own
aspirations of becoming a doctor, but is also simultaneously provided the opportunity to
improve the life of everyone in her community.
Camfed (Campaign for Female Education) the organisation who made Exildah’s education possible, is working hard to get more female children into school, so that we can move closer to achieving MDG3.
Camfed were profiled in Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s inspiring book Half the Sky,
which is due to be released in the UK in August. It is a wonderful campaigning tool and
provides a unique insight into the transformative effects of women’s empowerment.
Check back here in a few weeks when GPP will be offering our friends and supporters an
exclusive chance to win a free copy of Half the Sky, as soon as it’s released in the UK.
As Kofi Annan identified back in 2008, there are 860 million illiterate adults in the world, and
two thirds of these are women. Out of more than 100 million children not currently in school,
the majority are girls.
MDG3 calls for the elimination of the gender disparity in education for women and girls at
all levels, by 2015. In this visually beautiful video, Kakenya tells her uplifting story and it
illustrates the great things that can be accomplished if we uphold our commitment to achieve
the third MDG.
Her story is a wonderful example of the far reaching effects of women’s empowerment in a
single community. It demonstrates that enabling a female child to go to school, and to get an
education equal to that of a male child, will positively change the lives of all members of her
The story of Kakenya shows how this type of change, or cultural shift, in a community needs
to come from within the community itself, rather than from the outside. And, that change
begins with a conversation.
Providing an education for women and girls equips them with the confidence to speak out,
and to assert more control over their own lives. An education also creates a space in which
women and girls can speak freely, and in which they will be listened to with equal respect.
As Kakenya’s story show us, when given the opportunity to speak and act in an environment
equal to that of their male counterparts, women can, and do bring about incredible change.
Vital Voices is an organisation working across the world with people like Kakenya. They
empower women and girls to create spaces in which to lead and to assert their voices with
confidence, and to transform their communities.
Ending poverty isn’t about what we do here. It’s about what people in poverty are able to do themselves to earn a decent living, and to access opportunities.
That’s why the concept of microfinance has really taken off in the last 10 years, as it’s a way of supporting people to invest in their own businesses as a way to lift themselves out of poverty – like Beesamma, who’s featured in this video from our partners at Opportunity International Australia.
Microfinance isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to ending poverty – only a small number of people in any given community, anywhere in the world, are capable of becoming successful entrepreneurs. But, what microfinance does do is turn the tables on the assumption that ending poverty is about us. It says clearly that actually, ending poverty is led by those in poverty themselves.
It also raises a much bigger question – which is how to make markets work for the world’s poorest people. All too often, poverty isn’t about people not having skills or products that are valuable – it’s about them not being able to access a market where they’d get a decent price, or not being able to access the financial resources – like a bank account, credit or insurance – that would enable them to go beyond subsistence.