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Learn, share, and take action with 'Half the Sky' by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

United States, December 11, 2009

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December, 2009

This article is for anyone interested in human rights, especially those who are concerned about how women and girls are treated in developing nations. It’s a bit long, but there’s a lot to say … (please stick around, I have an invitation for you at the bottom of this post).

A few months ago I received an email from a favorite local bookstore, outlining their upcoming events. One author appearance highlighted was a visit by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the first husband and wife team to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Their book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, shares personal stories of women from developing nations, and actively encourages readers to get involved to combat hunger, poverty, and opression. It sounded like a wonderful program, and I would have loved to have attended, but, it sold out before I registered (note to self: the early bird really does get the worm … Just Do It!)

Recently I was sent information about the ways Half the Sky has inspired action; read on to learn about the collective power of book clubs:

In an interesting new take on engaging readers and encouraging activism, one organization is enlisting book clubs to help fight global hunger and poverty. The relief and development agency Mercy Corps is challenging readers and book clubs across the country to read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. Readers are encouraged to learn, share and take action. The book club challenge is part of a broader campaign called One Table, which raises awareness of how investing in women can successfully combat world hunger and poverty.

In September, Pulitzer Prize winning writers Kristof and WuDunn released the book Half the Sky, which through the moving stories of women from around the globe, sheds light on the causes and effects of hunger, poverty and oppression in developing communities. Kristof and WuDunn’s compelling stories reveal how investing in women is one of the most effective ways to significantly bring about change in today’s world.

Through One Table, book clubs are encouraged to take action in this “fight” by reading Half the Sky, discussing it with friends and hosting fundraisers to help women around the world struggling with poverty and hunger. The challenge posed: the book club that compiles the most impressive record of activism by June 15, 2010 will receive a visit and discussion session with Kristof and WuDunn. In creating One Table, Mercy Corps is making it simple for people to get involved and forge relationships with others that share in their interest to fight global oppression.

Book clubs from across the country have eagerly responded to this challenge, excited to help women like the ones they have read about. Here is what a few inspired women had to say about their experience reading the book:

“Half the Sky illustrates more than these global ills; it shows us how vital females and the female role in everyday society are. While one could focus on the tragic stories in this book, and the stories of slavery that can overwhelm us in the media, there is also great hope to be found. The very fact that we are hearing these voices indicates that there is survival and a light after the pain. These voices call us to action and give us support.” – Nadja Griffis, Ocala, FL

“I plan on giving Half the Sky to many friends and hope it will inspire them to take action. I am especially interested in the Teach the World program mentioned in chapter eight. I plan to research it and contribute to it.”- Judy Saunders, Houston, TX

“After hearing the stories of these incredibly brave girls and women, I can’t help but feel inclined to do whatever is in my means to try and make a difference. I plan to start with the steps outlined in the “what you can do” chapter and see where it takes me. I don’t have a lot to give, but the book showed that sometimes the small things can help make a big impact.”- Katie Bookey, Portland, OR

“After reading Half the Sky, I cannot say that I see the world differently but I can assure you the reality in which I live has taken on new meaning. I was not born wealthy but after reading this book, I realize I have what is necessary to make a difference in my life as well as in the lives of women throughout the world.” - Kimberly Blackman, Orlando, FL

“My family will absolutely move forward on the four steps outlined at the end of the book. And we are most excited about sponsoring a girl though Plan International. It will be wonderful for our children to be involved first-hand and play a role in communication.” – Michelle Truelson, Portland, OR

“I’m inspired because I’m angry! Over and over as I was reading, I felt shocked, awed and frustrated–not only by the scale of the injustice against girls and women worldwide, but by the world’s indifference. We tend to think of crimes against humanity happening in a specific place or culture, but what is truly jaw-dropping in this case is the pervasiveness of the attitudes that allow these crimes occur and go unpunished, across cultures, classes and geography. Education has to be part of the solution. The first thing I am going to do is make sure everyone I know reads this book! The plight of women and girls in the developing world has been ignored too long already.” – Kate Rothen, Brooklyn, NY

For more information:

On Half the Sky
To read Half the Sky and enter Mercy Corps’ book club challenge

Half the Sky was published by Knopf on September 8, 2009. Back-of-the-book blurb: From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.

Note from the authors:

“We wrote a book devoted to women in the developing world because if you want to fight poverty and extremism, you need to educate and empower women and bring them into the economy. A country can’t grow and be stable if half the population is marginalized. Mercy Corps is helping spread this message through their One Table campaign. And you can help advance the cause by registering your book club on this site. You’ll receive a moderator’s kit to help guide the discussion and guidelines on how to host a fundraising event to support Mercy Corps’ work with women and families. Please join the conversation, because we all have a role to play.

“Thank you.”

—Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Here’s your invitation, open to all: The ideas within Half the Sky and One Table dovetail nicely with the focus of the Women Unbound Reading Challenge. I’d like to create a mini-challenge for it … maybe you’d like to bring something to the table?