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have just finished reading half the sky by nicholas kristof and sheryl wudunn and i cannot cannot recommend it enough. i first heard about the book while reading this fantastic article in the ny times magazine last summer, and while the article definitely gets the point across successfully the book is still absolutely worth a read.

 

the book discusses sex slavery in southeast asia, rape and murder in the name of honor in africa, unimaginably high rates of maternal mortality all across the world, fistulas, female genital cutting, and the benefits of education and microloans; since studies have shown people respond with more compassion to stories of individuals than to mind-numbing statistics, each chapter is punctuated by photos and narratives of women’s lives. best of all, the authors don’t just present the sad state of affairs in the world today and then leave you to feel shitty all day — they repeatedly describe organizations and philanthropic efforts that WORK and also introduce opportunities for the reader to GET INVOLVED and SUPPORT SUCCESSFUL EFFORTS TO CHANGE THINGS. thank goodness, because it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed when faced with an overwhelmingly shitty situation.

( at one point while i was reading the book i was telling a friend about it when he scoffed a little and asked if endlessly talking about inequalities makes them worse rather than better — the whole ‘post-race’ argument that was continuously brought up during the 2008 election, that if we would just stop talking about black or white or male or female then slowly differences would fade from our collective consciousness. i think mostly he was trying to be a dick on purpose, but just in case, i definitely do not think that not talking about it is the solution. when women are honor-raped every day, when girls are systematically prevented from educating themselves, when female sex workers are kidnapped from their families and kept prisoner by beatings and drug dependencies, the absolute worst thing we could possibly do would be to not talk about it. i think a lot of us don’t quite know the extent of how difficult and dangerous it is to be a woman outside of america/europe/developed nations in general, and learning about the scary reality is the only way to motivate oneself to take action. )

while the authors respect legislators’ efforts to solve inequities through laws, policies, and UN bodies, they repeatedly point to overwhelming evidence that the far more effective route is one that emphasizes grassroots, localized organizations founded or run by local people who understand local culture and customs. microfinance, for one example, has been shown to be hugely successful, changing entire communities through $65 loans to individual women. so, here is a very short list of some websites and organizations mentioned in the book that are worth checking out and contributing to:

kiva.org

globalgiving.org

camfed

engenderhealth

novo foundation

global fund for women

of course there are tons more avenues to examine if you, too, are impassioned and eager to help. very worth the research. now go buy the book, now.

[ stefanie ]

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