The book’s front cover looks friendly, uplifting even. The title –– “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” –– is set against an azure sky flecked by wispy white clouds. Below are nine women’s faces, of all races, looking hopeful, untainted by violence.
And so “Half the Sky’s” cover gives no hint of what is inside, the stories of torture and rape perpetrated by men, young and old, in testosterone-fueled societies with blatantly misogynistic tendencies. Nor does it speak to the ancient feuds and wars that are described in agonizing detail in the book’s 252 pages.
Yet at its core, “Half the Sky” is about the brutal mistreatment and enslavement of women in a number of the poorest nations in the developing world, where bloodletting can be a daily ritual. The book is an unrelentingly stark assessment of womanhood beyond America’s relatively safe borders, written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, former Times reporter and executive Sheryl WuDunn.
Reporting for The Times, Kristof and WuDunn were the first married couple to win simultaneous Pulitzer Prizes for their coverage of China’s fledgling democracy movement in 1989 and its ultimate suppression in Tiananmen Square in 1990, according to “Who’s Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners.” They published “Half the Sky” with Alfred A. Knopf in 2009.
Now the couple are working feverishly to ignite a second abolitionist movement aimed at freeing the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of women who are sold and beaten into prostitution and hard labor in many parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The first abolitionist movement, Kristof and WuDunn note in “Half the Sky,” began with one man –– William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The original abolitionists fought the slave trade with information, meticulously documenting the wretched conditions under which slaves were shackled and whipped into submission, and getting the word out to a largely unknowing public with their in-your-face pamphlets.