Half the Sky

Half the Sky Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
What You Can Do. Kristof and WuDunn begin this chapter by referencing segregation and discrimination, which was once considered by many Americans to be an inevitable part of Southern and American culture. But the civil rights movement, with its leaders and coalitions, proved this cynical idea wrong. Similarly, environmentalism only became a functional movement after leaders of the environmental movement took a stand. Likewise, Kristof and WuDunn have hope that a broad, revolutionary movement for global gender equality will arise.
The authors contextualize the women’s emancipation movement by comparing it with two movements known to the reader: civil rights, and environmental justice. Most readers will know that these two movements profoundly affected modern life, so in the same way, the authors imply, women’s emancipation can have a vital and transformative impact.
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The authors argue that the ideal model is in fact the British campaign to end the slave trade around the turn of the 19th-century. They explain that slavery was considered inevitable for most of human history, accepted by Saint Paul and Aristotle. In the 1780s abolitionism wasn’t a political issue, but then it abruptly rose to the top of the British agenda. For fifty years, Britain suffered tremendous economic costs for ending its role in slavery, the authors report, even leading to short wars. Eventually, though, the decision influenced American and French ideologies about slavery.
Slavery makes an excellent example of the way commonly held values can radically change with human moral progress. For millennia, slavery was normalized, considered essential to the way economies functioned and hierarchies were organized. Now, most find slavery abhorrent. This evolution in opinion is another case for optimism about the future of women’s rights.
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Slavery didn’t take place in Britain, the authors report, so “for the average English family slavery was out of sight,” which enabled denial about its atrocities. Thomas Clarkson was the leading British abolitionist who overcame willful ignorance and has been called in the Economist, “the founder of the modern human-rights movement.” The authors write that Clarkson secretly collected manacles, thumbscrews, and other barbaric devices used to brutalize African slaves, and made posters of a diagram of a slave ship loaded with 482 slaves (he was careful not to exaggerate, though the ship held up to 600 slaves). He debunked the apologists’ myth that slaves were doted on, and persisted even when the economic cost of ending slavery seemed far too great for the cause to be viable. But, when the British public was confronted with the reality of wretched, rank, disease-ridden slave ships, slavery became too unpalatable to defend, the authors write. Clarkson’s tireless campaigning, with the company of a former slave, led to political pressure in the forms of an enormous sugar boycott and petitions.
Thomas Clarkson’s tactics have marked similarities to modern tactics in women’s emancipation and other causes. Exposure to the brutality of an inhumane practice motivates changes in behavior. For instance, exposing the cruel conditions of chickens and pigs inside factory farms helped give rise to the popularity of vegetarianism. By presenting visual evidence of human rights abuses, Clarkson provoked visceral disgust from Britons, who finally saw the abuse as too shameful. In spite of economic arguments, Clarkson and his allies achieved what was, years earlier, thought to be preposterous. Likewise, eliciting such a visceral objection to women’s oppression—something like what Zainab Salbi experienced when reading Time—can revolutionize people’s response to gender inequality.
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Abolitionists were considered in their day naïve idealists ignorant about economic complexities, the authors explain. Today, urgent issues of sex slavery and other violations are also commonly dismissed. The authors stress that “leadership must come from the developing world itself,” with the support of Western activists. Moreover, the authors argue that women’s emancipation would help combat terrorism far better than the U.S. strategy of increasing weapons and military presence to the resentment of people in countries like Pakistan, which unwittingly encourage more extremism. Kristof and WuDunn claim that for all major challenges facing humanity, like climate change and strained resources from overpopulation, “empowering women is part of the answer.” Though not a silver bullet, the benefits are both practical and just. They use Bangladesh as an example of a country that is far more stable than its neighboring Pakistan, due largely to its investments in women’s rights.
Here, the authors broaden their argument and make the major claim that women are part of the solution to all modern global challenges, moving from the moral argument (the same as Clarkson’s argument against slavery) to a pragmatic one. Unlike the fifty years following the end of Britain’s role in slavery, in which the British economy suffered, women’s emancipation will boost innovation and economies.
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Kristof and WuDunn ask the reader to consider the consequences of allowing half a country’s brainpower to go unused, costing “billions of IQ points.” They describe the Flynn Effect, the phenomenon of the growth in IQs—for instance the eighteen point average IQ gain in the U.S. from 1947 to 2002. Nutrition, education, and stimulation may account for this remarkable growth, all of which are part of women’s emancipation. Future gains in IQs will lead to “a new infusion of human intelligence” with which to solve the world’s daunting problems.
The authors give still more compelling evidence for big returns on social investments in girls and women. Better access to nutrition and education will, put plainly, make the world smarter. Implicit is an invitation to consider what could be accomplished with a new influx of empowered thinkers.
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The authors use Heifer International, which gifts livestock to farmers, as an example of an aid group that has grown more women-focused for pragmatic reasons. Its president Jo Luck traveled to Zimbabwe, where she met Tererai Trent. As a girl, Tererai was considered more useful at home than at school, but desperately wanted an education, so she did her brother’s homework for him. She was married at eleven to a man who beat her each time she tried to read, but when she and other women happened to meet Jo Luck, Jo kept asking them what their hopes were. The authors say this perplexed the women, who hadn’t allowed themselves to think in terms of hopes or goals. But with Jo’s insistence, Tererai admitted she dreamt of an education. Inspired by the encounter, Tererai nurtured that dream by studying vigorously, and writing her dream on a scrap of paper, which she buried in a tin can. She began working for Heifer International, and her colleagues encouraged her to apply to schools. She was admitted to Oklahoma State University, where the authors describe her taking care of all her five children and working at nights, barely making ends meet. She then found a job with Heifer International, and earned her PhD, researching African AIDS programs. Each time she visited Zimbabwe, she dug up the tin can and checked off the goals she had accomplished. She had become Dr. Tererai Trent.
Tererai Trent functions as an example of what effects small acts of intervention and human connection can have in a person’s life. Granted, Tererai’s story doesn’t suggest that the only boost necessary is to cheerlead young women to follow their dreams—especially since Tererai’s ascension cost her strain and financial insecurity. But her story does illustrate that sometimes small seeds of encouragement can lead to the self-confidence necessary to take risks, especially for women in countries where self-confidence is an act of resistance to cultural norms.
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Kristof and WuDunn point out that, though women still are underrepresented in politics worldwide, they dominate in the civic and nonprofit sector, and are increasingly guiding projects to be women-focused. The authors list what the emancipation movement must strive to accomplish. First, it should build coalitions that transcend conservative and liberal lines. Second, it should avoid overselling success or inflating statistics, and stay realistic. Third, helping women shouldn’t come at the cost of ignoring men’s suffering in developing countries. Fourth, “American feminism must become less parochial,” focusing on developing world issues as much as on first world issues, and conservatives should fight for African lives as much as unborn fetuses. Finally, the authors say that the movement needs to be flexible, with strategies based on empirical evidence as much as possible. For instance, they cite evidence that television was used in both Brazil and India to spread ideas that led to reduced fertility rates and women refusing to allow themselves to be abused. The authors make clear that they don’t advocate for television to replace education, but that idea infiltration can occur through surprising media, and that the data supporting such programs should be trusted and followed.
The authors lay out clearly what they think the women’s emancipation movement demands. Most arguments are addressed earlier in the book, but this is the first explicit case for a more worldly American feminism. Kristof and WuDunn tacitly criticize what they see as both American self-absorption, of which both conservatives and liberals are guilty. Meanwhile, the example of television as a tool to transmit new ideas in Brazil and India makes excellent evidence for how the best tactics can be counterintuitive. Many lament what they consider to be the cultural degradation and homogeneity that TV brings. But the authors argue that TV can be a powerful tool of communication, and therefore empower women to be more individual and self-advocating.
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Further, the authors stress that the movement must include a range of causes, namely “maternal mortality, human trafficking, sexual violence, and the routine daily discrimination that causes girls to die at far higher rates than boys.” UN initiatives help promote this agenda, and the U.S. should have an agency devoted to gender equality, they argue, but ultimately the best efforts occur outside bureaucracy in the form of schools and clinics. The authors want to see a grassroots movement crossing political and religious boundaries to lobby the U.S. government to complete three initiatives. The initiatives are, first, a $10 billion five-year effort to promote girls’ education, not just building new schools but providing resources like menstrual pads. Second, salt iodization in poor countries to prevent fetal brain damage. Third, $1.6 billion over twelve years to end obstetric fistulas, a women’s health issue about which conservatives and liberals should all agree. The authors claim that if these initiatives came to fruition, more people would join the women’s emancipation movement, aware of both the problems and possible solutions.
Here, Kristof and WuDunn lay out what specific political policies readers might campaign for. These relatively straightforward policies help make the women’s emancipation movement less murky and more approachable to the reader. The authors make the point that success breeds more success, and once the movement gains more momentum, it will also gain more activists, who will be heartened by the fact that its goals have been shown to be achievable.
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Kristof and WuDunn emphasize that the first world, too, needs to address domestic problems, like the child sex slave trade. Readers don’t need to leave the continent, they stress, to find valuable projects in need of volunteers. Spending both time and money is the best way to join the movement, they write, whether at home or abroad. And the result doesn’t have to be self-sacrifice, as Sydnee Woods shows. Sydnee quit her job in Minneapolis to volunteer at New Light in India, where she struggled with strangers’ constant suspicion of her, a black single woman, which exhausted her emotionally. The authors asked Syndee if she regretted the decision, and she said flatly no, that the experience changed her fundamentally, enriched her life, and made her a better person. People like Sydnee, the authors write, reflect the empirically supported case that helping others improves one’s happiness. The authors also directly encourage the reader to donate money discerningly and consider volunteering abroad at places like Mukhtar Mai’s school if possible. Further, they recommend that students try to take “gap years” to travel and volunteer, and that parents extend vacations to the developing world. The women’s emancipation movement, they conclude, is well underway, and the question is “whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander.”
One of the authors’ final arguments for jumping into the women’s emancipation movement is that committing to the cause will, truthfully, serve the giver. Sydnee Woods is a compelling example of a beneficiary of her own sacrifices. The struggles in India deepened her relationship with the world and broadened what she thought herself capable of. The section’s final line asks the reader to consider whether he or she will be a participant or a bystander—this invites a heftier question, of what the reader’s own role in history will be. Throughout history, during the Holocaust or transatlantic slave trade, for instance, the inaction of bystanders enabled oppression to prevail. People looking back on history tend to judge those bystanders, and so here the authors make readers face the scrutiny of that same historical gaze: to question how they might be guilty of inaction themselves in the face of profound moral wrong.
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Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes. First, the authors write, go to www.kiva.org or www.globalgiving.org, or other humanitarian sites, and make a small donation or loan. Second, sponsor a girl or woman through an organization such as Women for Women International. Third, sign up for informative newsletters on www.womensenews.org and www.worldpulse.org. Finally, join the CARE action network at www.can.care.org, which will help readers advocate for policy change and voice themselves as informed voters.
Here, the authors actualize their initial promise to “recruit” the reader to the women’s emancipation movement, by giving concrete and simple steps the reader can take.
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Kristof and WuDunn conclude with the story of Beatrice Biira, a Ugandan girl whose family received a goat from Heifer International. The goat, which they named Luck, produced enough milk to provide money to send Beatrice to school, though she was years behind. Beatrice worked her way to a scholarship, then to an American college, then to graduate school—as she puts it, “all because of a goat!” The authors urge a collective effort to help girls and women “truly hold up half the sky.”
Beatrice’s success story makes for an uplifting conclusion to the book, and demonstrates why women’s emancipation is so necessary. Compared with the book’s harrowing opening story—Srey Rath and her saga in multiple Malaysian brothels—Beatrice’s story seems uncomplicated and achievable, giving the reader a final push to join this urgent, already unfolding movement.
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