Half the Sky

Nicholas D. Kristof Character Analysis

Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times and one of the authors of Half the Sky. For the book, he does on-the-ground reporting on specific stories related to gender inequity in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, venturing into dangerous or otherwise underreported locations in order to tell the stories of women in these regions. He therefore is both an author of the book, and a kind of “character” within it. At times he also functions as more than a reporter, and actively works to help the women whom he has met through his reporting.

Nicholas D. Kristof Quotes in Half the Sky

The Half the Sky quotes below are all either spoken by Nicholas D. Kristof or refer to Nicholas D. Kristof. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Half the Sky published in 2010.
Introduction Quotes

In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: xvii
Explanation and Analysis:

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Many of the stories in this book are wrenching, but keep in mind this central truth: Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: xviii
Explanation and Analysis:

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Honor killings, sexual slavery, and genital cutting may seem to Western readers to be tragic but inevitable in a world far, far away. In much the same way, slavery was once widely viewed by many decent Europeans and Americans as a regrettable but ineluctable feature of human life. It was just one more horror that had existed for thousands of years. But then in the 1780s a few indignant Britons, led by William Wilberforce, decided that slavery was so offensive that they had to abolish it. And they did. Today we see the seed of something similar: a global movement to emancipate women and girls...So let us be clear about this up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way—not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: xxii
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 1 Quotes

People always ask how they can help...A starting point is to be brutally realistic about the complexities of achieving change. To be blunt, humanitarians sometimes exaggerate and oversell, eliding pitfalls. They sometimes torture frail data until it yields the demanded ‘proof’ of success.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Meena Hasina
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

The tools to crush modern slavery exist, but the political will is lacking. That must be the starting point of any abolitionist movement.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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Rescuing girls from brothels is the easy part, however. The challenge is keeping them from returning. The stigma that the girls feel in their communities after being freed, coupled with drug dependencies or threats from pimps, often lead them to return to the red-light district. It’s enormously dispiriting for well-meaning aid workers who oversee a brothel raid to take the girls back to a shelter and give them food and medical care, only to see the girls climb over the back wall.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Srey Neth, Srey Momm
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

‘Empowerment’ is a cliché in the aid community, but it is truly what is needed. The first step toward greater justice is to transform that culture of female docility and subservience, so that women themselves become more assertive and demanding. As we said earlier, that is, of course, easy for outsiders like us to say: We’re not the ones who run horrible risks for speaking up. But when a woman does stand up, it’s imperative that outsiders champion her; we also must nurture institutions to protect such people.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Usha Narayane, Akku Yadav, Goretti Nyabenda
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

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“We sometimes think that Westerners invest too much effort in changing unjust laws and not enough in changing culture, by building schools or assisting grassroots movements. Even in the United States, after all, what brought equal rights to blacks wasn’t the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments passed after the Civil War, but rather the grassroots civil rights movement nearly one hundred years later. Laws matter, but typically changing the law by itself accomplishes little.”

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Molly Melching
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Behind the rapes and other abuse heaped on women in much of the world, it’s hard not to see something more sinister than just libido and prurient opportunism. Namely: sexism and misogyny. How else to explain why so many more witches were burned than wizards? Why is acid thrown in women’s faces, but not in men’s? Why are women so much more likely to be stripped naked and sexually humiliated than men? Why is it that in many cultures, old men are respected as patriarchs, while old women are taken outside the village to die of thirst or to be eaten by wild animals? Granted, in the societies where these abuses take place, men also suffer more violence than males do in America—but the brutality inflicted on women is particularly widespread, cruel, and lethal.”

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Woinshet Zebene , Aberew Jemma
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

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“In short, women themselves absorb and transmit misogynistic values, just as men do. This is not a tidy world of tyrannical men and victimized women, but a messier realm of oppressive social customs adhered to by men and women alike.”

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Zoya Najabi
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

“In short, rape becomes a tool of war in conservative societies precisely because female sexuality is so sacred. Codes of sexual honor, in which women are valued based on their chastity, ostensibly protect women, but in fact they create an environment in which women are systematically dishonored.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Du’a Aswad
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Young people often ask us how they can help address issues like sex trafficking or international poverty. Our first recommendation to them is to get out and see the world. If you can’t do that, it’s great to raise money or attention at home. But to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it —and it’s impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it firsthand, even live in its midst. One of the great failings of the American education system, in our view, is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad.” Chapter 5

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Harper McConnell
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

“No one reading this book, we hope, can fathom the sadistic cruelty of those soldiers who used a pointed stick to tear apart Dina's insides. But there is also a milder, more diffuse cruelty of indifference, and it is global indifference that leaves some 3 million women and girls incontinent just like Dina.”

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Dina, Mahabouba Muhammad
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

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“So lifetime risk of maternal death is one thousand times higher in a poor country than in the West. That should be an international scandal.”

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Catherine Hamlin
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

Religion plays a particularly profound role in shaping policies on population and family planning, and secular liberals and conservative Christians regularly square off. Each side has the best of intentions, yet each is deeply suspicious of the other—and these suspicions make it difficult to forge a broad left-right coalition that would be far more effective in confronting trafficking and overcoming the worst kinds of poverty.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Rose Wanjera
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

Westerners sometimes feel sorry for Muslim women in a way that make them uncomfortable, even angry... Americans not only come across as patronizing but also often miss the complexity of gender roles in the Islamic world.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

That is the power of education. One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is also 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 meaningfully to their national economies.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Dai Manju
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

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Anybody traveling in Africa can see that aid is much harder to get right than people usually realize.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Molly Melching
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

It is not uncommon to stumble across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net and then find the child's father at a bar, where he spends $5 each 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.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 12 Quotes

So was it cultural imperialism for Westerners to criticize foot-binding and female infanticide? Perhaps. But it was also the right thing to do. If we believe firmly in certain values, such as the equality of all human beings regardless of color or gender, then we should not be afraid to stand up for them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, torture, foot-binding, honor killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths or cultures. One lesson of China is that we need not accept that discrimination is an intractable element of any society. If culture were immutable, China would still be impoverished and Sheryl would be stumbling along on three-inch feet.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 13 Quotes

Incredibly, it looks as if [grassroots activists] will make female genital cutting in West Africa go the way of foot-binding in China. That makes the campaign against genital cutting a model for a larger global movement for women in the developing world. If we want to move beyond slogans, we would do well to learn the lessons of the long struggle against genital cutting.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Molly Melching
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

The unfortunate reality is that women’s issues are marginalized, and in any sex trafficking and mass rape should no more be seen 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.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:

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Think about the major issues confronting us in this century. These include war, insecurity, and terrorism; population pressures, environmental strains, and climate change; poverty and income gaps. For all these diverse problems, empowering women is part of the answer. Most obviously, educating girls and bringing them into the formal economy will yield economic dividends and help address global poverty.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker)
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

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We like to think of aid as a kind of lubricant, a few drops of oil in the crankcase of the developing world, so that gears move freely again on their own.

Related Characters: Nicholas D. Kristof (speaker), Sheryl WuDunn (speaker), Jo Luck , Tererai Trent
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

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Nicholas D. Kristof Character Timeline in Half the Sky

The timeline below shows where the character Nicholas D. Kristof appears in Half the Sky. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
Rath’s story is far too common, Kristof and WuDunn write, yet little considered in the global agenda. The authors recount their own... (full context)
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
...make clear. Rape and forced prostitution exist in the U.S., and are widely ignored. But, Kristof and WuDunn write, the problems are especially lethal in parts of the developing world. Plainly... (full context)
Universal Benefits of Women’s Empowerment  Theme Icon
Solutions to Address the Oppression of Women Theme Icon
The girl effect can help combat poverty all over the world, Kristof and WuDunn argue. Initiatives in India and Bangladesh had stunning success in the late 20th... (full context)
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
Solutions to Address the Oppression of Women Theme Icon
...authors remind us. Readers can all belong to a similar movement to emancipate women worldwide, Kristof and WuDunn write, and they urge the reader to leap into this unfolding story of... (full context)
Chapter 1
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
Kristof and WuDunn explain that India likely has more slaves in such conditions than any other... (full context)
Chapter 2
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
...a bustling border village between India and Nepal, where thousands of Nepali girls are trafficked. Kristof strikes up a conversation with an Indian intelligence officer, who says he is monitoring the... (full context)
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
Solutions to Address the Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Kristof and WuDunn pose the question, what policy would end slavery? They explain that, at first,... (full context)
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
Solutions to Address the Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Kristof and WuDunn write about a crowded, sprawling network of brothers in Kolkata, India, called Sonagachi,... (full context)
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
Yet, further examination shows that Sonagachi’s success is more modest than advertised. Kristof and WuDunn acknowledge that, after Kristof criticized Sonagachi, liberals in India accused him of undermining... (full context)
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
Solutions to Address the Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Kristof and WuDunn introduce the reader New Light, an organization that supports current and former sex... (full context)
The Oppression of Women  Theme Icon
The Complexity of Aid Theme Icon
Rescuing Girls is the Easy Part. Kristof and WuDunn begin by saying they became slave owners by simply paying cash in exchange... (full context)
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...in the brothel, dead-eyed and prized for her light skin. With Neth’s consent, she and Kristof scheme for him to buy her, so that she can return home. For $150, she... (full context)
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Kristof finds Srey Momm, a frail young girl, in a different brothel. In Kristof’s description, Momm... (full context)
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...from the same American aid group, which went well at first. A week later, however, Kristof received the terrible news that Momm had a methamphetamine addiction, and had voluntarily returned to... (full context)
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...marriage, but she never told him about her history in the brothel, or her HIV. Kristof and WuDunn, who maintained a friendship with Neth, describe their heartbreak at seeing Neth deceive... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn outline three lessons in this story. First, rescuing girls from brothels is a... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Learning to Speak Up. Kristof and WuDunn claim that one reason so many women are oppressed is the societal expectation... (full context)
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The New Abolitionists. Kristof and WuDunn introduce Zach Hunter in Atlanta, who was twelve when he heard that modern... (full context)
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Women’s emancipation would be much stronger, Kristof and WuDunn argue, were it backed by more social entrepreneurs. Advocacy beyond the UN and... (full context)
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Prajwala’s workers want all brothels shut down, not just regulated, Kristof and WuDunn report. “Aid groups would have been too sensible to tackle the problem” of... (full context)
Chapter 4
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However, a change in law doesn’t entail a change in culture. Kristof and WuDunn think some Westerners put too much energy toward changing laws. Constitutional amendments passed... (full context)
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...the money toward building schools, what the village most needed. The authors describe Mukhtar, on Kristof’s first visit to see her, as a deferential girl sitting in the back of her... (full context)
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Mukhtar had already founded the Mukhtar Mai School for Girls, and Kristof’s column on the school brought in $430,000 in donations. But, it also brought resentment from... (full context)
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...to terrorize Mukhtar, smearing her with the myth that she was money-hungry, and even targeting Kristof and WuDunn. The president warned her against spreading a bad image of Pakistan in the... (full context)
Chapter 5
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The Shame of “Honor”. The hymen, Kristof and WuDunn explain, is an object of worship and symbol of honor in many cultures.... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn introduce Dina, a teenager the authors met in her Congolese village, Kindu. One... (full context)
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...women—rape, disfigurement, and torture—are used to “terrorize the rest of the population.” When Dina told Kristof and WuDunn her story, a line of women lined up, wanting to tell their story... (full context)
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“Study Abroad”—in the Congo. Kristof and WuDunn describe HEAL Africa as a “sanctuary of dignity” from the misogyny in Congo,... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Maternal Mortality—One Woman a Minute. The previous descriptions of violence were horrific, Kristof and WuDunn write, but an even more pernicious cause of oppression exists: “the cruelty of... (full context)
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To accommodate the human preference for story, Kristof and WuDunn write about Simeesh Segaye, an Ethiopian woman they met at the Addis Abba... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn write that Allan fundamentally influenced the field of global public health, which is... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Why Do Women Die in Childbirth? In posing the titular question, Kristof and WuDunn ask the reader to “consider the factors that converged to kill Prudence Lemokouno,”... (full context)
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...complained of women’s disregard for preventative health measures, appearing spiteful and angry. By the time Kristof arrived, Prudence had been in the hospital for two days and her baby had died,... (full context)
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...Somaliland, a place where few Westerners venture, Edna Adan founded a beautiful new maternity hospital. Kristof and WuDunn think that some Westerners have become so cynical about corruption in Africa that... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn describe the unlikely ways the hospital functions, such as treating a woman who... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Family planning, Kristof and WuDunn write, is also vital in fighting HIV/AIDS. Biological factors make women more vulnerable... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn introduce Thabang, a fourteen-year-old girl living in a South African village whom the... (full context)
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...official Vatican position. Because missionaries have been so instrumental in healthcare in the developing world, Kristof and WuDunn argue that were religious aid work channeled into women’s empowerment, it would reap... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn suggest that liberals could adopt the traditional Christian policy of tithing, or donating... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Is Islam Misogynistic? The chapter opens with an anecdote about Kristof’s interpreter in Afghanistan, who appeared very modern until he said his mother will never visit... (full context)
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...Saudi Arabia to bar women from driving, because Muhammad allowed his wives to drive camels.” Kristof and WuDunn use the complicated example of slavery as an analogy: Islamic law approves of... (full context)
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The authors describe a time when Kristof “quizzed” female Saudi medical staff about their views on women’s rights. They resented the questions,... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn describe the Women’s Detention Center in Afghanistan, where “inmates include teenage girls and... (full context)
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...conference in Saudi Arabia, about technology’s dim future there without the employment of women’s minds. Kristof and WuDunn also suggest that patriarchal homes inform governments to be more patriarchal. (full context)
Chapter 10
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Investing in Education. Kristof and WuDunn describe living in central China as newlyweds, and getting to know a teenaged... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn claim that bribery is another effective way to boost girls’ education, though it’s... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn report Camfed as now helping 400,000 students a year attend school, with only... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Saima is an “unusually successful participant in the microcredit revolution sweeping the developing world,” Kristof and WuDunn write. They claim that microfinance has empowered and protected women far more than... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn write that women suffer more from poverty than men, hence microfinance’s focus on... (full context)
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One solution, Kristof and WuDunn posit, is to put women in charge of more money, since women are... (full context)
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A CARE Package for Goretti. Kristof and WuDunn introduce Goretti Nyabenda, a mother of six living in Burundi in a red... (full context)
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...authors write, Bernard approaches Goretti for cash, and Goretti leaves the house without asking him. Kristof and WuDunn stress that the microfinance model isn’t perfect, and Goretti’s success could collapse. But... (full context)
Chapter 12
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The Axis of Equality. Kristof and WuDunn introduce billionaire Zhang Yin, a bubbly woman from China who started her career... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn make a claim that “sounds shocking to many Americans: Sweatshops have given women... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn describe Murvelene Clarke as a woman living in Brooklyn who wanted to donate... (full context)
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Murvelene’s $27 monthly donation has radically changed Claudine’s life, Kristof and WuDunn report. Women for Women trains women in saving and accruing wealth, so Claudine... (full context)
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Tears Over Time Magazine. Kristof and WuDunn first describe Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi woman living in the U.S., as Hollywood’s... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Grassroots vs. Treetops. Kristof and WuDunn begin the chapter with a vivid description of genital cutting: “approximately once every... (full context)
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...cutting” (FGC) Most important, leadership of the moment transferred to local women like Edna Adan. Kristof and WuDunn draw the reader’s attention to Tostan, a West African group with perhaps the... (full context)
Chapter 14
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What You Can Do. Kristof and WuDunn begin this chapter by referencing segregation and discrimination, which was once considered by... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn ask the reader to consider the consequences of allowing half a country’s brainpower... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn point out that, though women still are underrepresented in politics worldwide, they dominate... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn emphasize that the first world, too, needs to address domestic problems, like the... (full context)
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Kristof and WuDunn conclude with the story of Beatrice Biira, a Ugandan girl whose family received... (full context)