Reflections on Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

            I first read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as a bright eyed freshmen for my Honors Colloquium class. It is a truly inspirational book that opened my eyes to the hardship faced by women all around the world. What I enjoyed the most about this national bestseller was that it not only unveiled the stories of oppression faced by women all around the world, but also showed their strength to overcome these obstacles. In addition to these stories of women’s perseverance and courage the authors provide a “tool-kit” that readers can use to aid in empowering women worldwide. It was the stories that I read in this book that inspired the passion in me to become involved with organizations that work to empower and protect women.

            The authors chose to begin their book by telling the story of Meena Hasina an Indian Muslim woman living in the state of Bihar in northern India. She was trafficked when she was only eight or nine years old. Her traffickers would beat and drug her into submission. However, despite being forced to sleep with dozens of men daily, being beaten five days a week, and becoming pregnant due to the lack of condom use Meena never stopped fighting. She helped thirteen girls escape the brothel and she herself escaped despite the lack of police assistance. She was even able to save her two children from the brothel owners through the assistance of the Apne Aap Women Worldwide organization that fights against sex slavery worldwide. Meena’s story not only revealed the life of a sex trafficking victim, but also illustrated the strength and resilience of women who rose above her adversities to protect others.

            Though Meena’s story left me feeling hopeful that we as a society could combat and rise above human trafficking the way she did, Kristof and WuDunn offer many statistics that truly demonstrate the intricate problem of human trafficking. One particularly shocking statistics was comparing the trafficking of women and girls for sex to the slave trade. “In the peak decade of the transatlantic slave trade…an average of eighty thousand slaves were shipped annually…far more girls are shipped into brothels each year… than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations each year of the 18th and 19th centuries” (10). Despite the multitude of organizations that exist worldwide supporting humanitarian causes the situation regarding sex trafficking is actually worsening.

            The book goes in depth into the different methods by which the many anti-trafficking organizations have been trying to combat sex trafficking. There are two main methods that most organizations support: either they believe that prostitution should be made illegal or prostitution should be legalized and regulated. Until reading this book I had never considered that legalizing prostitution could possibly “help” reduce the problem of sex trafficking. The rational behind legalizing brothels is that the government can step in and regulate them in order to prevent coerced prostitution. However, Kristof and WuDunn discuss that in the countries with the highest rates of forced prostitution this method of regulation is not effective. Legalizing brothels would require governments to actively regulate them by sending in police and government officials regularly to check for underage girls. But the countries where human trafficking is highest tend to have governments that are compliant with the demands of pimps and johns. From Meena’s story we see that often times police are of no help because they are customers for the brothels.

            I think Meena’s story really revealed the many complex layers that surround human trafficking. What I admired about her story was the strength she showed and the way she persevered to provide a better life for herself and her children. Half the Sky is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. I think the authors did a wonderful job describing the oppression women face world-wide and the ways many women are overcoming these struggles. And the “tool-kit” they prescribe is what every reader needs in order to become actively involved in the movement that is working towards empowering women all around the world.

– Mansi Trivedi, Intern at Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now