Half the Sky: A Book Review

One of my favorite words in the Hebrew language is Shalom.  I love this word because it means so much more than peace.  It encompasses an entire ideal: universal flourishing, the way things ought to be.  When you hear the term universal flourishing, what do you think of?  For me, I think of someone who is thriving in every aspect of life - mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. 

In the New Testament, when Jesus healed, it always brought shalom to the person being healed.  If someone was blind, he gave them physical healing, but their eyes were also opened to who he is, the Son of God.  Jesus met them in the peak of their brokenness, and his physical and or emotional healing brought forgiveness and freedom, which in turn led to spiritual transformation, and thus, universal flourishing. 

As an organization, the goal of Women for Oppressed Women is to help oppressed women flourish in every aspect of their lives.  Often times, provision of their most obvious physical need brings them shalom, as they recognize their need for spiritual restoration in Christ.  When we seek to help women in oppression, our goal ought to be one of shalom, giving them a hand up to flourish in every aspect of life.  Many organizations focus on helping women improve their lives in a specific aspect, such as spiritually, educationally, physically (health-care), or economically (microenterprise).  Many are making a significant impact, yet sometimes it is overwhelming to know where to begin or how to help, especially when we hear of such widespread abuse or injustices.  That is where the book Half the Sky can help. 


Since beginning my journey of gaining awareness and becoming active in the plight of oppressed women around the world, I have read many books on the subject. By far, the most comprehensive book on the topic has been Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity, by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.   This book, written in 2009, was birthed out of Sheryl’s own personal story as a Chinese American who went on a mission to discover more about her father’s heritage and family lineage in China.  What she discovered nearly unraveled everything she knew in her life to be true.  Her father left a wife and two daughters in China to move to America, and he then married and birthed two more daughters here.  Sheryl was one of the American daughters, and her father had never mentioned that he had abandoned a wife and two daughters in China. 

When she discovered this truth (and met her two half-sisters), she set out on a journey that led her around the globe, researching and reporting on women and girls in widespread forms of oppression.  She and Kristoff compiled the stories of the women Sheryl met, into Half the Sky. The best-selling book later was made into a documentary featuring interviews with many of the women whose stories she shared.

Half the Sky is a very difficult read, and many of the stories will make you sick to your stomach knowing they are true and occurring every day.  However, awareness is certainly the first step in making a difference.  Authors WuDunn and Kristoff do an amazing job gently documenting the sometimes brutal, violent, and devastating realities of these women’s lives.   They unpack the worldwide spread of sex trafficking and highlight several organizations who have experienced varying degrees of success in rescuing and rehabilitating girls from this slavery.  The authors also expose honor killings, rapes and mass rapes as weapons of war. These horrific practices frequently lead to fistulas (holes in women’s genitalia that cause feces to leak out continuously), maternal mortality (99 percent of those deaths occur in poor countries), and inequality of education in many parts of the world.   

The book doesn’t stop at just the bad news. Half the Sky gives many examples of organizations making strides to “turn oppression into opportunity.” Lastly, they offer readers four steps they can do in the next ten minutes to make a difference.  While one single person may not be able to solve the problem of global oppression, certainly awareness, advocacy, and action in small steps by many people will help. Then, we can begin the process of lifting one woman at a time toward healing and the opportunity to flourish. 

-- Heather Weisel © September 2017