Half the Sky Movement Teaming Up to Make a Real Difference
Around the world, 62 million girls are not in school and an estimated 100 million will drop out before completing primary school. One in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday, and one in three women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. Further, each year more than 287,000 women, 99 percent of them in developing countries, die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications.  The Half the Sky Movement works towards raising awareness on the above issues.

The Half the Sky Movement is a multi-donor, multimedia campaign bringing together video, mobile games, content hubs and other education tools to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is cutting across all multimedia platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls on a global scale which is quickly becoming one of the defining issues of our time.

The campaign itself aims to open up debates about deep-set values that challenge women’s empowerment in areas such as economic growth, girls’ education, female genital mutilation, women’s health and sex trafficking.

USAID and the Half the Sky Movement have teamed up and developed 18 educational advocacy videos on topics involving gender equality and women’s empowerment. USAID also helped support the creation of three mobile games that reach out to over 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, three-quarters of which are in developing countries.

The games are free of charge and proactively engage players around critical issues like reproductive health and empowerment through education. All three are available in English, Hindi and Kiswahili. Each game can be accessed through in-country mobile phone app stores, including Nokia, Safaricom, GetJar and Appia.

Currently, the organization’s focus to promote gender equality has set its efforts on Kenya and India. They are using a cutting-edge initiative via transmedia development alliance to promote and disseminate Half the Sky Movement’s messages of women’s empowerment. The organization aims to improve public dialogue on key gender-related concerns, develop the capacity of partner NGOs, as well as foster transformational attitudinal and behavioral changes on a global scale. Lastly, it aims to nurture policy changes by encouraging global policymakers, business leaders and influencers to advocate for institutional changes to support gender equality.

“Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, the catalyst of the group.

So far, supporters of the movement have donated more than $5 million to organizations helping young women. Even more so, upwards of 1,500 campus and community ambassadors have spread the word and educated members of their communities on the issues millions of young women and girls face all over the globe.

Keaton McCalla

Photo: Flickr

Circle of SisterhoodCircle of Sisterhood is an organization comprised of college-educated, American sorority women working together to provide educational opportunities for girls and women around the world.

Circle of Sisterhood was founded in 2010 by Ginny Carroll. She was inspired by the best-selling book, Half the Sky, which focuses on women’s education around the globe. The Circle of Sisterhood website quotes the aforementioned book which states, “one study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is often a precondition for girls and women to stand up against injustice, and for women to be integrated into the economy.”

Carroll saw the Greek community as perfect volunteers for her mission as “they’re already organized, they already understand philanthropy, they already give millions of dollars a year to domestic work… the vision was, this was a way for all sorority women… to have a global effect.”

Sorority chapters on college campuses around the nation who choose to participate as volunteers for Circle of Sisterhood raise funds to build schools and create scholarships for girls and women around the globe. Chapters may opt to host a bake sale, trivia night, or any other fundraising event to collect donations from fellow students. Many campuses even host screenings of the documentary version of Half the Sky to inspire more women to volunteer.

According to Circle of Sisterhood website, “as college educated women, we know the value of achieving an education… every girl in the world deserves the opportunity to go to school.” Considering that only around seven percent of the world’s population currently holds a college degree, many sorority women feel it is their duty to try to spread their educational good fortune.

As of 2015, Circle of Sisterhood had already impacted 17 countries and built five new schools, such as Ethiopia, Kenya and others. The organization has also raised almost $500,000 in grants.

After six years, sorority women involved in Circle of Sisterhood have continued to show their gratitude for their own educations by helping other women and girls to achieve the same.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

Half the sky

Reading a book like Half the Sky illuminates how unfair our world is. Though women make up about half of the world’s population, they are consistently discriminated against, overlooked and are in some cases, treated as second class citizens.

It is not surprising that the authors of Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDonn, are award winning writers for their work in raising awareness about the reality most women face in their countries in relation to discrimination.

Written as a series of essays, this book has two parts. The first part of the essay highlights the oppression and discrimination against women especially in developing countries and how this problem is often overlooked due to corruption, lack of strong justice systems and the patriarchal state of these nations.

The second part focuses on practical ways to create this “movement and effect the change needed” to address these situations.

From the beginning to the end of this enlightening book, it is obvious that the writers are very knowledgeable on their topic of discussion and their work shows extensive research in different areas of discrimination within different locations in developing countries.

From discussing issues such as women being promised work and ending up in sexual slavery and imprisonment, to illuminating health issues within developing countries such as women and girls ending up with fistulas after birth, women dying from HIV and AIDS, women and girls going through female genital mutilation as well as being overlooked in terms of getting an education, this book paints a sad reality of women’s lives in the developing world.

The most fascinating point that arises in the book is the fact that culture is the main catalyst for the way women are treated in their societies. In our dynamic world, culture in the developing countries seems unchangeable, especially in relation to its negative aspects. Another surprising fact in the book is the idea that older women in some of these societies are perpetrators of discrimination towards other younger women in the society.

Here, this is quite a deviation from what the “West” has portrayed in development; the idea that men are the main perpetrators of women’s oppression.

Half the Sky not only raises awareness about the injustices women faces but it also advocates for women to fight for their rights by speaking up and resisting the discrimination they face. Though the book points out a few strong and relentless women like Usha Narayane, Sunitha and Krishna who do exactly this and fight for justice, it highlights that most women in the developing world are vulnerable and are unable to get access to their rights.

Half the Sky is the voice of the vulnerable, uneducated and oppressed women in the developing world.

Vanessa Awanyo

Photo: Google Images

The book “Half the Sky” introduces an idea that education is the key to ending global poverty worldwide. The title of the book comes from the founding father of the Republic of China, Mao Zedong, meaning “women hold up half the sky”; unfortunately, millions of these women are living in poverty.

Women make up half of the world’s population, yet more than half of these women are more likely to have an unequal place in society. These women are more likely to be poverty-stricken in these communities than men and are excluded from the public domain which leads to domestic violence.

Because of the inequality placed on women living in poverty in developing nations women tend to not have access which is a key aspect of society. Humans need to have access to healthcare, job opportunities, and basic human rights like clean water and food. In order to fight global poverty, an emphasis of education and access is key to bring an end to poverty and the pain these communities suffer from on a daily basis.

Accordingly, Ph.D. student Katie Conrad at the University of Tennessee believes that women need access to resources in these developing countries where there is also a lack of education for these women. Conrad is a teaching associate for child and family studies at the university, and has based her research in Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender as well as family studies.

Furthermore, Conrad’s area of interest is creating courses for first-year students on campus designed to educate not just women, but men, about sex, dating violence, alcohol and rape culture awareness. She feels as though teaching women in society cannot be done without reaching women globally and stated “education is the major form of empowerment and is a good place to start.”

In particular to teaching women’s studies courses in these devolving countries, Conrad remarks that “being educated on their culture and maintain cultural sensitivity to understand what issues they face” would be a good place to start to bringing education to women in those areas. Conrad believes that women in developing countries need not just access to basic resources but access to support when in an abusive situation. In particular, community support systems are needed to help cope with domestic violence in their society.

In addition, both Conrad and the authors of “Half the Sky” understand that bringing access to resources like female education can help improve all corners of the world and drastically reduce poverty. Therefore the book introduces three steps to bring access to these areas. The first step would be a $10 billion effort over five years to educate girls around the world and reduce the gender gap in education.

The second step would be for the United States to sponsor a global drive to iodize salt in poor countries to prevent tens of millions of children from losing approximately 10 IQ points each as a result of iodine deficiency while their brains are still being formed in the uterus; finally, the third step would be a 12-year, $1.6 billion project to eradicate obstetric fistula while laying the groundwork for a major international assault on maternal mortality.

The need to stress issues like female education are indeed crucial to develop of not only developing nations but our own nation at home.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Vialogue, University of Tennessee
Photo: Staci Jae Johnson

There are few books that have the power to change the way we think about the world. “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is one of those books. Long after the reader closes the cover, they might find themself pondering the carefully chosen facts interspersed with heart-wrenching anecdotes from women around the world. The picture that emerges is nothing short of shocking.

The authors find that “more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine “gendercide” in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.”

Let that sink in for a minute. How is it possible that this routine violence against women has not made bigger headlines? Part of the reason, Kristof and WuDunn argue, is that there has not been any one large, catastrophic event to focus on, like a war. Rather, the killing and discrimination against women is an ongoing occurrence.

Another part of the reason may be that, in many societies, women are just not as important as men. Female babies are considered unlucky; female babies are less likely to receive medical attention; female children are less likely to receive adequate nutrition and education. The list goes on. And, until recently, it seems that female victims have been less newsworthy than their male counterparts.

But however slow on the uptake, the international aid community is, in recent years, prioritizing women’s rights. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was signed by Bill Clinton, and in 2008 the United Nations declared rape a war crime, just to name a few examples of progress. Indeed, as horrific as many of the women’s tales are, “Half the Sky” is an inspiring book. Women are not the problem, but the solution.

This is true across the board. Microloans given to women are both empowering and, often, financially successful. Providing women with more education not only increases their ability to provide for themselves, but also decreases pregnancy and increases the likelihood that women will seek medical treatment during pregnancies.

The fact still remains that women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. But the picture painted in Half the Sky is not one where men are the villains and women the victims. In many cases, women are perpetrators of discrimination and violence. For example, many owners of brothels that engage in forced prostitution are women.

Ultimately, gender-based violence and discrimination are not such over-whelming issues that we ought to resign in defeat. Yes, the problems are often complex and require cultural solutions rather than a quick technical or financial fix. But not always. There are many examples of incredible people who make huge differences. Edna Adan started a hospital in her homeland of Somaliland. The Edna Adan Maternity Hospital provides maternal healthcare for impoverished women, treating problems like obstetric fistulas that are rare in developed countries but it is estimated the between 2.5 and 3 million women worldwide suffer from fistulas.

An obstetric fistula is the result of prolonged or obstructed labor. Pressure from the fetal head cuts off blood flow to the mother’s organs, causing tissues between body organs to die. This often leaves a hole between the bladder and vagina through which urine drips uncontrollably. Aside from being painful and vulnerable to infection, fistulas are hugely stigmatizing, and often destroy families.

While we are not all trained medical professionals, there are many ways to help. Pressure from the United States has often been one of the most effective ways to accomplish reforms internationally. When the U.S. cares about something, economic incentives are often attached. If the U.S. were to make women’s rights a priority, the situation for half of the world’s population would likely improve significantly.

Claire Karban

Sources: Worldwide Fistula Fund, Half the Sky Movement
Photo: San Jose State University

Olivia Wilde and the Half the Sky MovementActress, Olivia Wilde grew to fame for her role on one of the world’s most-watched television shows, House. However, she is also known for her role as a humanitarian. She has worked in Haiti, as well as produced her own documentary highlighting crises in various developing countries. She seamlessly transitions herself between the glamour of Hollywood to nonprofit work in the developing world.

Wilde recently participated in a PBS documentary and movement known as Half the Sky. Half the Sky is a movement aimed at igniting the change necessary to eliminate the oppression of women and girls worldwide. The Half the Sky movement was started by Nickolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn wrote a book by the same name, which focused on turning oppression into an opportunity for women worldwide.

The movement uses videos, websites, games, and educational tools to spread awareness of women’s issues as well as to help create solutions to empower women. The video series is a four-hour series broadcast on PBS and other international channels. It was shot in ten countries and includes several celebrities such as Olivia Wilde, America Ferrara, Meg Ryan, and Gabrielle Union. The series displays portraits of women and girls living in some of the worst conditions imaginable, yet fighting to improve and change them.

Wilde appears on the second night of the series. She traveled to the Umoja Women’s Village in Kenya where the women of Umoja make beautiful handmade beaded items. The women in the village depend on the sale of their beaded items to support themselves and their families. The profits fund community projects selected by the women including scholarships for young girls, teacher’s salaries, lunches for preschoolers, and a freshwater and health care project.

Wilde also traveled to visit Jamii Bora. Jamii Bora is a micro-financing organization providing small loans to women in extreme poverty to start their own small businesses.  The organization has an incredible success rate, helping women escape poverty and establish themselves independently.

The series hopes to raise global awareness of extreme poverty and hopes to educate and empower women worldwide to help each other out of poverty. The movement spreads a strong message of hope and progress.

– Caitlin Zusy
Source: Half the Sky

Eva Mendes and Half the Sky

In late 2012, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) created a documentary about women living in developing countries called Half the Sky. This documentary examines the lives of many women in third world countries who have suffered through rape, prostitution, slavery, violent marriages, and other forms of oppression. By interviewing numerous women, Half the Sky is able to construct a common bond that promotes a sense of connectivity for all women and all humanity. Eva Mendes is one of the celebrities participating in this eye-opening project.

While the documentary takes the viewer to many different parts of the world, like Cambodia and Vietnam, Eva travels to Sierra Leone to talk to women about empowerment and to raise awareness of violence against females.

The film advocates women in leadership roles who advocate for women victims of rape and physical abuse. In one instance, a woman, who was abducted at the age of 13 and forced into prostitution, now provides shelter and counseling for girls who escaped from similar situations. Eva Mendes also had the opportunity to interview a particularly inspirational woman who had the courage to press charges against the men who raped her.

Half the Sky focuses on how women are fighting back against gender-based violence and paints a relatively optimistic future. Although in some societies female violence is still the norm, many women are attempting to create and implement the concept of women’s rights. It may be a long battle in some countries, but, as Eva Mendes notes, even small progress is worth celebrating.

It is easy for some documentaries to merely show story after story about women who have suffered from violence; Half the Sky is a different kind of documentary. It shows the viewer that even in the midst of discrimination and struggle, these women are able to overcome their past experiences and emerge ready and eager to help other women. These women refuse to be silent and submissive. That is something that every gender and nationality can relate to.

– Mary Penn

Source: policymic
Video: You Tube