Thursday, October 13, 2011

Half the Sky

The following quotes are from the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the first married couple to ever win the Pulitzer Prize. This is one of the best books I've ever read because of their bravery and brevity in illuminating the struggle of women worldwide begging us to reconsider the notion that "If I'm okay, everyone else is probably okay too."

A Chinese proverb reads, “Women hold up half the sky.”


“More girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles on the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.”

“In India, bride burning for inadequate dowry, or so the husband can remarry, takes place every two hours.”

“During the last nine years in Pakistan, 5,000 women and girls have been doused in kerosene and lit on fire or burned with acid for perceived disobedience.”

“In China, 100,000 girls are routinely kidnapped and trafficked in brothels and we don’t consider it worthy of making the news.”

“Women are the third world’s largest underutilized resource.” (238)

“Every year at least 2 million women disappear because of gender discrimination.”


“ ‘Prostitution is inevitable.’ He chuckled. ‘There has always been prostitution in every country. And what’s a young man going to do from the time he turns eighteen until when he gets married at thirty?’

‘Well, is the best solution really to kidnap Nepali girls and imprison them in Indian brothels?’

The officer shrugged, unperturbed. ‘It’s unfortunate,’ he agreed. ‘These girls are sacrificed so that we can have harmony in society. So that good girls can be safe.’” (24)

“People get away with enslaving village girls for the same reason that people got away with enslaving blacks two hundred years ago: The victims are perceived as discounted humans…When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers.” (24)

The price for customers to a Cambodian brothel: $1.50 per session.

“One of the reasons that so many women and girls are kidnapped, trafficked, raped, and otherwise abused is that they grin and bear it. Stoic docility—in particular, acceptance of any decree by a man—is drilled into girls in much of the world from the time they are babies, and so they often do as they are instructed, even when the instruction is to smile while being raped twenty times a day.” (47)


“Surveys suggest that about one third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.” (61)

“They know that a woman humiliated in that way [rape] has no other recourse except suicide,” Mukhtar wrote later. “They don’t even need to use their weapons. Rape kills her.” (70)

“Rape has become an epidemic in South Africa, so a medical technician named Sonette Ehlers developed a product that immediately grabbed national attention there. Ehlers had never forgotten a rape victim telling her forlornly: “If only I had teeth down there.” Some time afterward, a man came into the hospital where Ehlers works in excruciating pain because his penis was stuck in his pants zipper. Ehlers merged those images and came up with a product she called Rapex. It resembles a tube, with barbs instide. The woman inserts it like a tampon, with an applicator, and any man who tries to rape the woman impales himself on the barbs and must go to an emergency room to have the Rapex removed. When critics complained that it was a medieval punishment, Ehlers responded tersely: “A medieval device for a medieval deed.” (61)

“In China, a neo-Confucian saying from the Song Dynasty declares: ‘For a woman to starve to death is a small matter, but for her to lose her chastity is a calamity.’” (81)

For rape to be legitimized in Sudan, “she must provide the mandatory four adult male Muslim eyewitnesses to prove that it was rape…Half of the women in Sierra Leone endured sexual violence or the threat of it during the upheavals in that country, and a United Nations report claims that 90 percent of girls and women over the age of three were sexually abused in parts of Liberia during the civil war there.” (83)

“The world capital of rape is the eastern Congo…All militias here rape women, to show their strength and to show your weakness…a viciousness, a mentality of hatred, and it’s women who pay the price…It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.” (84)

“Extremist Hutus had targeted Claudine’s family, which was Tutsi, and she was the only survivor. Claudine had been kidnapped with her sister, and had been taken to a Hutu rape house…Large numbers of militia members came to the house, patiently lining up to rape the women. This went on for days, and of course there was no medical attention. ‘We had started rotting in our reproductive organs, and maggots were coming out of our bodies,’ Claudine said. “Walking was almost impossible. So we crawled on our knees.’ …Hutu militia members killed her sister but finally let Claudine go…Claudine was puzzled by her swelling belly, as she still had no idea about the facts of life. ‘I had thought I could not get pregnant, because I had been told that a girl becomes pregnant only if she is kissed. And I had never been kissed.” (213)


“Fistulas are common in the developing world but, outside of Congo, are overwhelmingly caused not by rape but by obstructed labor and lack of medical care during child birth. Most of the time, women don’t get any surgical help to repair their fistulas, because maternal health and childbirth injuries are rarely a priority.” (93)

“The fistula patient is the modern-day leper…The reason these women are pariahs is because they are women. If this happened to men, we would have foundations and supplies coming in from all over the world.” (97)

“The equivalent of five jumbo jets’ worth of women die in labor each day, but the issue is almost never covered…Right now the amount of we Americans spend on maternal health is equivalent to less than one twentieth of 1 percent of the amount we spend on our military.” (98)

“Would the world just stand by if it were men who were dying just for completing their reproductive functions?” –Asha-Rose Migiro, U.N. Deputy Secretary General, 2007

“Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” (116)

In Somalia, “the innumerable local camels often have more freedom than the women.” (123)

“Thirty-nine thousand baby girls die annually in China because parents don’t give them the same medical attention as boys. As many infant girls die each week as the amount of protestors at Tiananmen (between 400-800).”


“One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is often a precondition for girls and women to stand up against injustice, and for women to be integrated into the economy. Until women are numerate and literate, it is difficult for them to start businesses or contribute in meaningfully to their national economies.” (170)

“Countries that repress women also tend to be backward economically, adding to the frustrations that nurture terrorism.” (159)

“Some security experts noted that the countries that nurture terrorists are disproportionally those where women are marginalized. The reason there are so many Muslim terrorists, they argued, has little to do with the Koran but a great deal to do with the lack of robust female participation in Islamic countries. Empowering girls, disempowers terrorists.”

It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” –Kofi Annan, then U.N. Secretary-General, 2006

“A society that has more men than women—particularly young men, is often associated with crime or violence…Young men in such countries grow up in an all-male environment, in a testosterone-saturated world that has the ethos of a high school boys’ locker room.” (158)

“It is not uncommon to stumble across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito net and then find the child’s father at a bar, where he spends $5 a week. Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses. Because men now typically control the purse strings, it appears that the poorest families in the world typically spend approximately ten times as much (20 percent of their income on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitutes, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children.” (192-3)

“Women now own just 1 percent of the world’s titled land, according to the UN. That has to change.” (195)

“Maternal mortality in the United States declined significantly only once women gained the right to vote. When women had a political voice, their lives also became a higher priority.” (198)


“Americans knew for decades about the unfairness of segregation. But racial discrimination seemed a complex problem deeply rooted in the South’s history and culture, and most good-hearted people didn’t see what they could do about such injustices. Then along came Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders, along with eye-opening books like John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me. Suddenly the injustices were impossible to look away from, at the same time that economic change was also undermining Jim Crow. One result was a broad civil rights movement that built coalitions, spotlighted the suffering, and tore away the blinders that allowed good people to acquiesce in racism.

“Likewise, skies were hazy, rivers oily, and animals endangered for much of the twentieth century, but environmental destruction unfolded without much comment or opposition. It seemed the sad but inevitable price of progress. And then Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, and the environmental movement was born.

“In the same way, the challenge today is to prod the world to face up to women locked in brothels and teenage girls with fistulas curled up on the floor of isolated huts. We hope to see a broad movement emerge to battle gender inequality around the world and to push for education and opportunities for girls around the world. The American civil rights movement in one model, and so is the environmental movement, but both of those were different, because they involved domestic challenges close to home. And we’re wary of taking the American women’s movement as a model, because if the international effort is dubbed a “women’s issue,” then it will already have failed. The unfortunate reality is that women’s issues are marginalized, and in any case sex trafficking and mass rape should no more be see as women’s issues than slavery was a black issue or the Holocaust was a Jewish issue. These are all humanitarian concerns, transcending any one race, gender, or creed.” (233-4)