(Note: This is an assignment for HUED 630 Human Rights at Valparaiso University.)
The saying “women hold up half the sky” is often attributed to Mao Zedong. Whatever else might be said about the Chinese Communist Revolution, Mao did push for the abolishment of child marriage, prostitution, and concubinage as well as getting women into the workforce and appointed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. This is according to authors Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009, Vintage Books).
Other sources refer to the ancient Chinese proverb “Women hold up half the sky, but it’s the heavier half” (Kelly Osterhaler, 2009) and note that it’s been attributed to Confucius as well as to Mao Zedong. Whatever the source, the oppression of women and girls continues to be one of the world’s major humanitarian issues.
WuDunn and Kristoff are the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. WuDunn is also the first Asian American to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Their book, PBS documentary series (2012), and Half the Sky Movement: The Game (no longer available, but you can still watch the trailer here and check out other social impact games at Games for Change) focus on sex trafficking, maternal mortality, sexual violence, microfinance, and girls’ education.
Heavy subjects, yes, but also subjects we can work to make changes toward and improve the lives of everyone across the globe. Kristoff and WuDunn note on page xxii in the introduction to the book, “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process underway–not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful business women.” They also offer practical ideas for way we can all help. The last two chapters of the book are What You Can Do and Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes. I think we can all spare ten minutes! You can also follow the lives of the women featured in the documentary series on the Half the Sky website. Women such as Rebecca Lolosoli in Kenya
and Duyen, Phung, and Nhi as they continue their education in Vietnam.
In 2014, WuDunn and Kristoff published A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity (Knopf Doubleday), which begins with another quote:
“Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally, there is nothing – but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.”
—Lu Xun, Chinese essayist, 1921
This was also made into a PBS series, in 2015. See the trailer here. The United States is featured with other countries in this series, with episodes that include a survivor of sex trafficking in Nashville, breaking the cycle of poverty in West Virginia, and 2 organizations in Atlanta that combat domestic violence.
Find out about more about ways to help and to share your story at A Path Appears.
Should you doubt that any one person can do anything to spur change, I suggest the book Free the Children, by Craig Kielburger with Kevin Major (1998, Harper Perennial) and the website Free the Children. I bring up Craig Kielburger’s story for several reasons. First, to show that a motivated individual, no matter what age, can speak up and make a difference. Second, in this post focused on women’s rights and oppression I would argue that child abuse is closely aligned with abuse of women and that women’s and children’s rights are interconnected. Enslaved children include young girls who go on to be enslaved and abused women, and the sex trafficking of young girls is particularly of concern to anyone concerned with human rights.
Brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger are the founders of Free the Children and ME to WE. The Canadian humanitarians, activists, and social entrpreneurs began their work over 20 years ago to fight child labor and exploitation.Craig was 12 years old when he began, Marc was 17.
In the epilogue to his book, Craig cites the oft-quoted Gandhi, “We must be the change we want to see.” He follows this with “That change starts within each one of us. And ends only when all children are free to be children.”