The Half the Sky movement’s motto and mission is to “turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide”, and that is precisely what the stories in both the book and the movie aim to highlight. The stories that both the book and the movie tell are centered around six main issues. The stories tell of the adversities that women face regarding the six issues, and highlight activists and organizations that try to solve the issues in various ways. A couple of issues are addressed below.
One issue is economic empowerment. The problem? According to a report by the U.N, women comprise 70% of the world’s poorest people, and own 1% of all owned land. They also, on average, earn about three-fourths as much as a man would earn in the same position. They have unequal access to education, and face discrimination in their fields. Half the Sky proposes a solution: to give women equal access and opportunities to education, so that they can have better jobs and higher wages. And, later, these women will invest in building the same foundations that helped them in the first place. In the movie, this issue is highlighted by the inspiring story of Jane Ngori, a single mother, former prostitute, and businesswoman who singlehandedly lifted her family out of poverty. She was able to move out of the slum and send her three kids to school, and later joined Jamii Bora, and organization that runs business management training courses, and other programs to help move other slum-dwellers into suburbs.
Another issue is education, or the lack of it. More than 75 million elementary school-age children are not in school. More than half of those children are girls. Girls who are born in families with low incomes have it worse, as they are more likely to drop out of school. Although the need to do housework may be the cause, there are other likely causes, such as the cost of tuition and the danger of walking to school. However, the education of girls is shown to have an effect that impacts generations. The education of girls leads to job opportunities and economic equality, as well as a lower risk of engaging in crime and human trafficking. Half the Sky acknowledges that building schools isn’t enough: students need to stay in school. They have proposed solutions such as deworming students and rewarding them with scholarships for good academic behavior. This issue is highlighted by Nhi, a 14 year-old from Vietnam. She attends school in the mornings, but has to sell lottery tickets in the afternoon to support her family. In fact, she is the primary income earner in her family, according to her father. She was aided by the organization Room To Read, which gave her access to books, and most importantly, a good education. Despite working hard to support her family, Nhi was able to have access to an education, a very important asset, that will definitely help her in her life.
Sex trafficking is also a huge issue. Millions of girls and women are bound to the sex trade, and the industry itself is considered by many as “modern-day slavery”. In fact, far more girls are shipped into brothels annually in the present, than African slaves were shipped into plantations in the 18th century. And, the trade self-perpetuates, as once girls are sold into the trade, they know nothing outside of it, and are therefore bound to the trade for life. And, drugs and other addictive substances are used to keep women in the trade as well. In addition, women in the sex trade are considered “disposable”, and have no rights whatsoever. Unfortunately, there is no specific solution for sex trafficking. But, Urmi Basu, an activist working in Kolkata, may have a solution. Daughters of sex workers often follow their mothers into prostitution due to various factors, perpetuating the sex trade. Urmi Basu’s New Light shelter protects and educates young girls, often the daughters of prostitutes, who are at high risk of being forced into prostitution. Education allows them to escape the sex trade, and to support their families and themselves through other means.
Half the Sky utilizes first-hand accounts of women’s issues to show how bad conditions are, and how they can be changed. In the book, authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn retell a first-hand account of the oppression of women worldwide. In the film, actors and actresses journey into areas of interest, to experience issues firsthand, and to raise more awareness of these issues with the general public.
Both the book and the film are exceptional. One just can’t help but root for the girl who supported her family as well as studying hard for school, or worrying about the intelligent, educated girl being sent off to her grandfather, and potentially to the sex trade, by her family. And, the commentary is very insightful, be it from the authors of the book, or a midwife from Somaliland, or Olivia Wilde. It highlights the issues completely, and gives different points of view on them. For example, one very moving moment in the film was when Monisha, the daughter of a prostitute who was given an education by the New Light shelter, addressed America Ferrera as her “new best friend”. It was a beautiful and inspiring moment, and just one of many, many beautiful moments in Half the Sky.
Half the Sky is absolutely fantastic, and worth the time. If you do watch or read it, though, I’d recommend investing in some tissues.