Lend a Hand

Half the Sky
Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Vintage, $15.95, 320 pp.

Half the Sky tells a story and has a mission. Its Pulitzer-Prize-winning authors, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, don’t merely report on the neglect, abuse, torture, and enslavement of women across much of the globe; they aim to inspire readers to relieve the misery that millions of women suffer.

The authors, veteran journalists and a married couple, describe the tormented lives of women and girl children so graphically that the emotional distance usually produced by geography and statistics all but disappears. Kristof and WuDunn effectively use studies that demonstrate the widespread oppression of women, but it is their stories about individual women—their suffering and heroism in the face of unrelenting cruelty—that form the heart of this compelling book.

Half the Sky argues that the humane treatment of women is essential to the flourishing of any society. When women are freed from oppressive conditions, thanks to education and economic opportunities, they, their children, and their husbands prosper. But Kristof and WuDunn report that women often re-inforce and perpetuate the practices that victimize them—practices such as genital cutting, bride burning, honor killings, enslavement in sex work, beating as a matter of spousal or fraternal right, and confinement in the home. Their acknowledgment that these practices are culturally embedded presents the authors with a challenge. They must reject practices and cultural norms that injure...

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About the Author

Sandra H. Johnson, professor emerita of law and health-care ethics at St. Louis University, is acting dean of its law school.