Most of my book reviews are written as I read the book, not after I read the book. This review started before I got a copy of the book in my hands.

I always thought my own perception of how “equal” women were, was somewhat removed. I decided to get a reality check and hence my reading project Half the Sky. The bottom-line after reading this book — I am now almost entirely convinced there is a world of women — abused and violated — both in the physical sense and the societal sense.

Half the Sky offers a round-up of oppressive acts against women — from organized sex slavery to rapes to misogyny to sexism to honor killings to maternal mortality and then to more specific issues surrounding women’s health — from fistulas to iodine-deficiency etc.. For each of these, the book not just offers a passionate account of facts, but also evaluates solution options, their pros and cons (this makes the book very different and practical read). For every chapter, it calls out revolutionist institutions created by grass-roots level women — often victims themselves — and helps create a solution-based approach to the oppression.

As an example, in this book I found a praiseful mention of Sunitha Krishnan — a name I had already been familiar with (thanks to TED). She is a victim of gang rape herself — but instead of sulking at the male-dominated world and resigning to failure, she had risen, even taller, to reduce the proliferation of brothels and sex trafficking in Hyderabad.

I was quite surprised by the role of America in supplying aids — both through large-scale state-sponsored organizations as well as small-but-niche organizations created by common men and women who want to make a difference. At the end, this book has rekindled my curiosity in what I would like to call Aid Economy — too much money is poured into the world in the name of aid — where does that money go? How much of that money reaches the victims? Who siphons money en route? On a dollar, how many cents reach the victims? I hope to find a book on that.

I have my share of criticism for the book as well:

  1. Aids provided by countries other than US is under-represented, bordering not mentioned at all. Every example taken, every aid organization quoted is one from US. I have a hard time digesting there are no other countries funding women’s welfare.
  2. The book was heavily skewed towards examples from the economically backward African countries or the socially backward pan-Islamic countries — which are important, to be sure — but neglect the oppressive acts against women in the developing or even the developed world. Moreover, economically backward countries tend to lack school and public health systems, which affect both genders — a consideration that is missed while focusing solely on women’s issues.

No woman reading this review, I hope, has been disadvantaged, deprived or their self-esteem damaged in their chance to education, employment, social status and life. Yet I am not able to comprehend many such women who find reason to play victim — something I am unable to accept too.