Bottom-Up Change

Many times in these chapters, the authors detail the valiant and well-meaning attempts of first-world aid groups and social justice-promoters to garner support for equality of women through the signing of petitions and the collection of money to ensure the safety of women worldwide. Let me be clear, I value and support the ideas of these people. Let me also be clear, I think it is a cultural misnomer to use tactics that yield success in the first world and attempt to apply them to third world countries, with the expectation of the same results.


Yes, laws are necessary. However, unless there are people to support and uphold these laws, they are essentially useless. So, before we try to change words on legal documents, we ought to try and change the thoughts in the minds of perpetrators of injustice. This is what many call “bottom-up” change, because it starts with the citizens and then affects the legislation at the “top” of the society, a.k.a. the government.

As an example, in the first-world country of Sweden, the country outlawed prostitution in 1999, with incredible results: prostitution declined by over 40% in first few years of the law (Kristof and WuDunn 31). However, we must examine the cultural and social interactions that made this result possible. I’ll summarize one reason why this tactic worked.

In countries where there is regulated and accountable law enforcement, laws are typically viable. In countries where there is little law enforcement (or, at best, a corrupt law enforcement), we cannot expect laws to change the land. 

Even the authors identify a great point in terms of the ineffectiveness of laws, even in first world countries: Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for rights that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment technically “secured,” for African Americas. Yet, it took a Civil Rights Movement in order for these laws to be carried out.

The second aspect of why laws cannot be the only force of change: Because the culture of the country can prevent the laws from being effective. We can “legislate morality” of women’s equality and rights, but until we change the culture of misogyny, which underlies most of the violence in these third-world countries, we cannot expect true, sustainable results.

In the fourth post of this blog, I went into detail about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. Although it is not a common practice, there are some northern African countries that deem it culturally acceptable (and even necessary) for many women. However, some women were able to stop this practice through education of the disease-causing instruments and bacterial infections caused by the procedure. The success rate for these educators is incredible. They were able to severely limit the practice in hundreds of rural areas. As of lately, Nigeria officially “outlawed” FGM, but this has been least effective. The culture rejects this legislation because it is not in-line with their beliefs.

Convocation of Baylor students--class of 2017. These students were told about the few other people in the world who have the opportunity to attend University. For me, this was a marker in my experience of learning how important education is to society.
Convocation of Baylor students–class of 2017. These students were told about the few other people in the world who have the opportunity to attend University. For me, this was a marker in my experience of learning how important education is to society.

While this seems like a third-world issue, the reality is that with technology, first-world countries have access to subordinate women, too: pornography. In Ross Douthat’s article “Is Porn Adultery,” he argues against the mentality that just because “everyone” does it, it’s okay. He claims that by using porn as a excuse for extra-martial relations, it is essentially telling one’s spouse that she/he is trapping and limiting the spouse’s desires.

To liken this to the book, this mentality that marriage and monogamy inhibit men allows for the subjugation and oppression of women. Yet, unlike in developed countries, the more likely outlet for this “need” is real women, in brothels, not women behind screens. For Douthat, it’s not about ignoring the temptation, but rather it’s about choosing a more decent way to live that does not violate marriage or another person.

One interesting way to prevent the culture of women’s inferiority is to allow them to provide for their families. Kristoff and WuDunn interviewed some men (previously domineering and rude towards their wives) whose wives had received micro-finances. The women pursued weaving, cloth-making, and embroidery, as well as other businesses. Now that the women were making money, their husbands gained more respect for them. They are allowed to walk outside by themselves, and they may in fact be the breadwinner in the family. This simple “role reversal” in the family has helped many women achieve their goals and has prevented parents from selling daughters into sexual slavery for money.

If you are interested in loaning money, please visit this website:

KIVA was recommended in the book as one of the best micro-loan avenues. Who knows—your loan could begin providing income for a family and simultaneously change the life of a wife and daughter. That one change can affect the way a village operates; that village can affect a region; that region can affect a country. And that country can begin making laws that will be upheld because the people value women and girls for their minds and spirits, not their bodies.

These are some of the girls that I mentor through Young Life. Not only has the experience changed the way I view poverty, it has changed the way I operate. I now hope to be involved in advocacy for better living conditions and education for the marginalized in America.
These are some of the girls that I mentor through Young Life. Not only has the experience changed the way I view poverty, it has changed the way I operate. I now hope to be involved in advocacy for better living conditions and education for the marginalized in America.

Equality Changes Everything

In the post IN(the name of)JUSTICE, I examined the high rate of maternal mortality in developing countries. While these countries are predominantly Muslim, lack of maternal care is rampant throughout developing countries all over the world.

To reiterate the main thesis of the post….

“Basically, women die in childbirth because the culture says that it is okay. They are just women. They are replaceable.”

 Personally, I believe that these views have less to do with the religion itself and more to do with the culture that arises from the religion. All religions have had periods in which the followers of that religion engaged in behavior that was not in-line with the religion’s beliefs (i.e. the Crusades).

Even the book acknowledges that Islam is not inherently sexist; yet, the culture surrounding the religion has become increasingly polarized in terms of gender roles, social expectations, and financial expectations.

Many of the women in these developing countries are accused of being dumb, yet they are refused an education. Many women are accused of being emotional, yet if they only ever hear that stereotype, no wonder they express more emotion. The point is that people will rise to the standard that you set for them. If you want women to live in poverty and forever “indebted” to their husbands, just tell them that they are worthless without their husbands as escorts and domineers.

In every city, women need encouragement to be strong leaders to transform their communities.
In every city, women need encouragement to be strong leaders to transform their communities.

One of the most frustrating ideas that people do not realize is that even the United States has a pseudo-gender role expectation. However, it is much less of a degree of discrimination, but ideologies like complementarianism contribute, in my opinion, to the oppression of women. In his article, “An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers” John Piper and Wayne Grudem put forth an explanation as to why each gender (and each sex) has a distinct role that must be fulfilled.

Even in instances where it is evident through Scripture that husbands and wives should love each other equally, Piper and Grudem set forth boundaries in which the husband always has headship over the wife: “Therefore, mutual submission does not compromise Christ’s headship over the church and it should not compromise the headship of a godly husband” (63). Nevermind that Christ was a perfect being, with all authority given to Him on Earth to command the Church. Nevermind that the Church was and still is imperfect–the parallel seems unfair to translate over into relationships. When Paul commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25), I find it hard to translate that over into headship for the male only, especially given the circumstances of two imperfect human beings.

Research shows time and time again that the happiest, most long-lasting relationships are relationships of mutual submission and full equality. This means equality in the sense that both members contribute in ways meaningful to each person, and the contributions are not necessarily tied to specific social-cultural gender roles. In the egalitarian view, there is no obvious leader for everything. This does not mean that everything is split exactly half-and-half. There will be parts of each person that “lead” the other; one member may be especially talented with finances, so he or she should lead in the financial realm. One may be better at caring for children, so he may take more of the responsibility, but in no way does that negate the responsibility of the woman to care for the children as well.

Education to dispel myths about women is crucial. Equality must be taught or society may suffer from domination via patriarchy.
Education to dispel myths about women is crucial. Equality must be taught or society may suffer from domination via patriarchy.

However, the Middle East is notorious for having an even more rigid view of women’s roles. Just reading the comments about how some men and women described other women made me realize that certain cultures do not value women. They demean the status of women, and then they hold it against them. The fact that thousands of women die each year in childbirth, simply because they lack access to medical care in rural villages, is unspeakable. I doubt few people would make a habit of leaving bleeding men in forests to be killed by wild animals, but for women, there is little thought.

WuDunn and Kristoff truly make a correct assertion when they state that developing countries lack the employment and development of half of their population. Through education and job training, women have fewewr children, which leads to fewer medical issues. If women could work, the GDP would increase, and medical care may become more available.

If we change the way that half the world views women, it could unlock a new generation of people who see the beauty and value in both men and women. There could be a society in which people don’t think twice about a woman leading certain aspects of a household or even an entire country. Then, we would have to stop basing our identities on gender or sex and start realizing that we were all made for something more than the sum of our limitations. We were made to thrive.

Prophetic Justice

The post “Hand-on for Hands-Off” is a play on words, which will be discussed in this post. Most of the intervention strategies (such as directly confronting brothel owners) is considered a hands-on task. The post examined some of the brutal use of force by men and women towards the poor, including but not limited to rape, sexual violence, prostitution and the obsession of women’s sexuality.

In his article “The Prophets and Social Justice: A Conservative Agenda,” Terence Fretheim addresses the argument that the prophets stuck to tradition in terms of addressing social injustices. The prophets were not reformers; their social justice was based upon conservative principles. They did not change the structure of society but rather looked for ways to make the society more like the society that God established from the beginning (Fretheim 160).

American students learning from a group of primary students at Fernando Llort School in El Salvador.

Again, one of the biggest issues in these developing countries is that there is a lack of information regarding who women are and how they operate. This cultural idea that women are weak, time-consuming, less-intelligent, and overall wasteful of resources contributes to the way that men treat women and women treat women. Without value for their lives, it’s no wonder that women resort (or are kidnapped) to brothels. If all you’ve been told about yourself involves negative aspects, it’s hard to maintain self-worth. These are also issues we must address head-on.

College students encouraging El Salvadorians in a game of “hand soccer.” Interactions like these help to expand the understanding of how many children interact with their surroundings in second and third world countries.

Against the injustices of the world, we must be willing to “call it like it is.” WuDunn and Kristof do not hesitate to accuse wrongdoers, but they also examine the social situations, which cause wrongdoing.

It does not have to be a “fire and brimstone” approach, but it must be direct. When discussing the operations of the brothel, Kristof asked the brothel owner, a woman, directly about her involvement. She was not hesitant to admit her involvement. While being direct may provide difficult conversation, at least it is honest conversation.

The forward approach of “calling out” injustice for what it was is no new concept; indeed, the prophets relied on their own experience with God and the traditions to expose injustice. There was no “beating around the bush,” so to speak.

Book of Amos explicitly references the transgressions that Israel made against God:

Amos 2:7

“They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.”

WuDunn and Kristof do not hesitate to address stereotypes and confirm the truths of some while mostly clarifying the misinformation on the other stereotypes. For instance, they argue that sweatshops have in some ways improved women’s conditions by allowing them to work outside the home, due to their nimble fingers and hands.

Indeed, the public observation and vocalization of wrongdoing creates a culture of intentional problem-solving. The prophets addressed their concerns publicly, starting with Amos (161). It may be characteristic of liberal ideology to speak with individuals privately, but in terms of accountability, publicity of transgressions is more effective. If I don’t know that my neighborhood has a history of burglary, how can I protect others and myself as well as monitor the others around me? Not in the sense of being nosy, but for the overall community health, public issues affecting multiple people should be addresses, well, in public.

While most old texts have scriptures regarding women, each must be examined with the understanding that the texts arose from different cultures.

In the Old Testament, social justice aligns itself with the promise of God (163). The “salvific traditions” in the Old Testament provide a foundation on which one can build his or her idea of social justice (163). While many, even the authors of Half the Sky have pin-pointed Biblical scriptures eliciting the oppression of women, one must consider that in the context of how often the prophets called out injustice, the Bible certainly cannot commend women’s oppression.

There is no reason to believe that God does not care for His people or does not want justice for His people. The biggest difference is that God’s timing of justice is more ambiguous than ours. Nevertheless, justice is still something we should seek on Earth, as part of the character of God.

Changing Rhetoric in the City

In these next four posts, I will critically examine the content of the first four blog posts, as they relate to Biblical Heritage material. The most obvious connection between the Half the Sky and Biblical Heritage is the interplay of religion and culture into the actions and thoughts of both those oppressing women and those being oppressed. In the first post, “A View of the Sky,” I highlighted the key concepts in the book. The main point of the first post is that there are many injustices towards women and not enough people that care about these injustices. One connection that I have been able to make is the commands from God in the Old Testament to obey His orders in order to avoid chaos and the removal of God’s blessing. In Amos 1:11, it states,

“This is what the Lord says:

‘For three sins of Edom,
even for four, I will not relent.
Because he pursued his brother with a sword
and slaughtered the women of the land,
because his anger raged continually
and his fury flamed unchecked…”’

God had given clear commandments, through his covenants with both Abraham and Moses, as well as the Ten Commandments, that His people were not treat each other like enemies. Yet, the people did not listen. Similarly, in this age, there is a degree to which people of many (but not all) cultures know that rape and murder are wrong. Yet, the culture of the Middle East permits women to be beaten if they do not obey the male-centered orders of their domineering husbands.

A Chinese Garden, full of beauty and tranquility. If only everyone could see the beauty in creation and in the good works of people, instead of the shame and ills.

Part of helping women in these cultures is changing the rhetoric surrounding women. Now, this is much easier said than done, but people, even just one person, can change the rhetoric. We see how inefficient it is to hold women back—they are not given the change for an education because they are “lesser,” yet, they are lesser because they do not have an education. This cycle of poverty and oppression leads women to be the stomping ground for anger and bitterness in a culture. The Judeo-Christian view of God does not allow for the oppression of women. While certain verses may be taken out of context, no one can argue that women are lesser than or somehow “under” the the greatness of men.

Truthfully, in my study of Islam (remember, the majority of countries that exhibit the oppression of women are majority-Muslim, according to Kristoff and WuDunn), I do not see evidence of justification for women’s oppression. While I could argue that in general, women are given harsher treatment and standards of conduct than men in the Koran, I don’t think the Prophet Muhammad would have agreed to wife-beating, Female Genital Mutilation, violent rape, abduction, and general disdain towards women.

All this to say, neither Christianity nor Islam supports the abuse of women; however, I do think that the culture surrounding Islam in the Middle East creates more of a male-centric reality than Christianity.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. God punishes the people for “slaughtering the women” and “pursuing their brothers with swords.”

Clearly, the Judeo-Christian God does not approve of violent injustice towards women (or men). Yet, this continues. From the fall, the desire for humankind to shift blame continues. In the Creation story, after God questions Adam and Eve, Adam responds with blame:

“The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”” Genesis 3:12

Adam first blames the woman, and then he blames God. In relation to Half The Sky, when brothel owners or other domineers are questioned about their inhumane actions, they almost always respond with the idea that the enslaved (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.) “asked for it” or “deserve it.” Again, this mentality is prevalent in first-world countries as well, among those who commit acts of violence and abuse. The rhetoric is powerful; the intentions are cruel.

Christ heals the lame beggar– a picture of using power for the benefit of others instead of the enslavement of humankind.

Whether for monetary gain using women as prostitutes or for self-pleasure in dominating a “weaker force” via domestic violence, this culture of abuse towards women has not stopped, even thousands of years after God’s command to love one another, as Christ loves the Church. We can see that the abuse of power continues to corrupt the hearts and minds of those men and women who believe that others’ “weakness” constitutes unnecessary roughness, slavery, manipulation, and neglect.

At the heart of all this injustice is the idea that women are not worth it. That they are not as important, or valuable, or precious as men. I do not think that we will ever gain the other “half of the sky” until we change the culture to see the value of women—regardless of her skin color, nationality, physical features, etc.

The Final Call

The final 5 chapter of Half The Sky go into more detail, offers statistics, and covers research about some of the issues covered previously. In short, the topics are as follows:

  • The Force of Education and its preventative measures against disease and fertility
  • Micro-finances for women in developing countries to gain respect in the villages and in their homes
  • Improvements of women’s statuses in the third world through cultural reformation
  • The offer of healthcare education to stop cultural practices of Female Genital Mutilation
  • The Impact that average Americans can have in the world of women (and men!) world-wide

In particular, this last chunk of the book really highlights the importance of becoming assimilated into a culture before trying to “change” it. One of the best examples is realizing that while the United States, via the UN, attempts to change the laws of certain countries regarding women (i.e. mandating a higher percentage of women in government, outlawing gential mutilation, setting wages, etc.), the best and most effective change comes from well-meaning people who develop a heart for a people group and move. There, they live among the locals, gain their respect, and ultimately, have much more leverage to enact social change.

In education, without the help of local agencies to in essence bribe families, there may be fewer girls receiving an education (173). Americans can donate money to the local organizations, like Camfed (Campaign for Female Education). It has been os successful because it has garnered local teachers and administrators who operate the education (182).

In order to help families send their daughters to school, they need money for tuition, school uniforms, and books. Often, families only allow sons (if any) to go to school, because they are more likely to succeed in their minds. Girls may not have access to a safe place to change menstrual accessories, and so the few that are in school drop out once they reach puberty. Micro-finances are backed by banks, and they involve coalitions of 20-25 women who band together than the loan will be repaid– or else all lose the ability to be loaned money. With a little help, these women have gained respect in their households because they take a craft like embroidery and turn it into a money-making venture (188). Women are more likely statistically to spend money on necessities and their children’s educations, rather than sugary items and alcohol, like men in these poor countries (192).

Even in
Even in “second world” countries like Ukraine, the need for gender equality is necessary. Most of the “working” citizens were male, including the military band  pictured here.

Female Genital Mutilation, though routinely performed in African countries that are majority-Muslim, is not tied to any religion. Indeed, there are some African Christians that practice this cultural “right of passage.” Ultimately, it is meant to curb women’s sexual desire, to keep them pure. However, the surgery is done with dirty tools and the girls do not typically receive anesthetic. So, besides the moral calamities, the health risks are great. Often, they sew the reproductive entry-way together, and they only allow a mid-wife to cut it before the wedding of the girl (222). The best way to prevent this is to gain the respect of locals, and then use healthcare education to inform mothers and father of the great health risks posed to their daughters if they decide to have her cut. Though this change has been slow, thousands of villages have agreed, in unison, to stop the genital cutting.

Truly, the most important aspect to helping these women (and all women– America women suffer to some degree from sexism) is education. If Americans continue to remain ignorant of the abuses towards women across the globe, it is no wonder that they don’t help. Of course, there will be people for which no cause will motivate them to give of their time, money, or talents. As much of a shame as it is, we must focus on reaching all people with the knowledge of the power of educating women. Often, all that is needed is a small loan or the donation of a goat. For Americans, this means they give up eating out 4 times a month to “scrape up” the money…In reality, this is very little being required.

Thus, talk to your children, your cousins, your friends, and anyone about what is happening in Africa and the Middle East. Do not “protect” people from the realities of the world, for they will only continue until people recognize the issue and decide to do something about it.

Take the time to explore other countries and cultures-- there is always value and purpose in each experience of learning.
Take the time to explore other countries and cultures– there is always value and purpose in each experience of learning.

IN(the name of)JUSTICE

This post will focus on the main ideas from Chapters 6 through 9 of Half the Sky. You may notice the cover picture for this post is a snapshot of the inside of Westminster Abbey in London, England. Remember this….

The rate of maternal mortality in the United States is extremely low. In fact, many Americans are unaware of the rampant issues regarding maternal healthcare in developing countries. And perhaps that is part of the problem. Many people just do not know how bad it really is for these women; and until people realize it, there is little hope for change.

As an example, think about the high rate of fistulas in developing countries…

If you’re asking yourself what a “fistula” is, you have indeed proven my point. Fistulas are caused by obstructed labor due to improper pre-natal care. In many cases, the “doctors” in third-world countries allow the babies to die because it is not worth the time or money to save the babies and repair the mother.

From the website, it describes fistulas this way: “An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman incontinent of urine or feces or both.”

Women enduring labor for more than two days lack blood supply to vital tissues, and the tissues die–

And this happens all the time. Women with fistulas are deemed “dirty” (the feces and urine typically drain out improperly, creating a rancid smell) and usually sent to live by themselves or sent out into the wilderness to be devoured by the wild animals.

Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) is the death toll for mothers out of 100,000 live births. In the United States, the MMR is 11. On average, the MMR for South Asia (including Pakistan and India) is 490 (98).

The next chapter describes why women die in childbirth in these impoverished countries. Yes, lack of quality medical care is on the top of the list. Yet, the authors describe story and story of doctors walking out on patients because it was “late” or they family could not pay. Yet, if it were a man’s life at stake, the funds and doctor’s willingness to operate would increase dramatically. Basically, women die in childbirth because the culture says that it is okay. They are just women. They are replaceable. As quoted in the book, “‘Vaccines are cost-effective; maternal health isn’t.'”

This brings forth a question: is the value of life to be measured by it’s cost-effectiveness?

Before Russia annexed Crimea, the southern portion of Ukraine, my school took a trip to an orphanage in Simferopol, Ukraine. There, we encouraged the young girls at the all-female orphanage to pursue their education– while also spending time playing with them and telling them about our lives in the United States. It is my hope that these children never become wary of their countries, but rather than they become motivated via external forces (perhaps our presence) to pioneer their own countries for good.

Speaking of maternity, about 40% of all births world-wide are unplanned (134). While conservatives and liberals debate over the best way to teach family planning, the reality is that a moderate position helps prevent maternal and infant deaths. On the left-side, abortions are not healthcare, and multiple abortions often result in complications in conception. On the right side, “pro-life” legislation and information can actually lead to more abortions. Neither is viable for women living without regular or quality healthcare. One way to help with family planning is to give more condoms to men, but more importantly, give more condoms to women. 

If the cultures of under-developed countries allowed women to take greater authority in the family, it would most likely lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies. Often, men are not used to using protection, and they ask (or demand) that women not request protection. Not only do condoms provide protection against Sexually Transmitted Infections, but they also are a mostly accurate way to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

The last chapter examines the cultural and religious implications of the religion of Islam. The World Economic Forum created a list of in descending order of countries for women’s rights and equality. Unfortunately, of the last 10 countries, 80% were majority-Muslim countries. Now, this does not necessarily mean that Islam preaches women’s inferiority. Like the two other most common religions (Christianity and Judaism), there are passages, which taken out of context, can lead to this opinion. The authors make a great point in stating that it is not that Islam is resistant towards women, but rather the culture of Islam in impoverished cultures perpetuates some of the verses taken out of context. Where Christianity and Judaism have reconciled passages with an understanding of the culture at the time in which the text was written, Islam does not acknowledge culture as much (151). In fact, one of Muhammad’s wives actually wrote the majority of the Hadith (or moral instructions and clarifications of the Koran); yet, it was destroyed because of a rebellion and demand for male power in the area.

In the book, a Muslim woman described her father as a devout Muslim, but he would not marry her off. He simply did not believe that it was the right thing to do, though he received tempting offers for her when she was even in the 6th grade. Let us not mistake religion with culture. They often correlate, but we must examine the differences carefully. In the differences, we can see a religion that is less stigmatized against women that previously thought. Even conservative older churches, such as ones established at the same time as Westminster Abbey, can reform their theology to include women’s health as ultimately an extension of the hands and feet of Christ.

Churches, while deemed
Churches, while deemed “backwards in progress” make up a vast amount of the charity in these developing countries. With a little help in restructuring their very conservative roots, they can be even more productive in helping to curb the amount of injustices towards women.

Hands-On for Hands-Off

The title of this post, “Hands-On for Hands-Off” may confuse readers at first glance. Continue reading this post in order to understand the meaning of this “play on words.”

The next chapters of Half the Sky, chapters 2 through 5, discuss these matters:

  • the difficulty of aid workers to successfully prevent the return of prostitutes to their pimps (Ch. 2)
  • the inability of women to speak up and fight back against violence and oppression (Ch. 3)
  • the brutal use of rape as punishment to keep the poor and uneducated from rising above (Ch. 4)
  • the obsession of women’s sexuality, which paradoxically, actually leads to more sexual violence (Ch. 5)
First world efforts to solve the slavery problem raise awareness in order to mobilize funds for the affected areas. However, they need to also motivate people to travel to these areas and see first-hand the effect of modern slavery.
First world efforts to solve the slavery problem raise awareness in order to mobilize funds for the affected areas. However, they need to also motivate people to travel to these areas and see first-hand the effect of modern slavery.

In this post, I offer no commentary or solutions to these. Please let these realities (and horrors) engulf you, as they engulf me while writing this.

In chapter 2, the authors “bought” two girls from Cambodia. One of the authors, Nick, was under the disguise as a potential “customers” of sexual acts, but he was in the brothel conducting research and interviews, in reality. While he purchased both girls their freedom, one of them went back to the brothel a few weeks later. Despite trying to open a business back in her hometown, she was addicted to methamphetamines. Pimps use meth as a way to keep women docile, but it is also a form of psychological slavery, as many of the rescued girls return to the brothels to satisfy their addictions (39). Also, even if the women are rescued, many of the aid groups are not equipped to train and supply the rescued victims with job training or ways to sustain themselves; thus, they return for food and “shelter” (and the beatings that ensue) in the brothels.

Why don’t women fight back (Ch.3)? Physically, this does not usually end well for women. Culturally, women are to be submissive and respectful towards men and older women. Socially, a woman deserves a beating if she does not obey. So, one can see why few women fight back. The odds of survival are not in their favor. If she proves difficult in the “breaking” of her spirit (during the introduction into the brothel lifestyle), more pain comes her way. One of the reasons for the lack of outcry is that the law enforcement does not care for lower-caste (in India) or lower-class citizens. Until someone of “importance” can cry for justice and cause public shame on a country for the injustices, there is little room for concern about that woman. However, in India, the Narayane family is an anomaly. Despite being Dalits, or “untouchables,” each of their 5 children attended college. When turmoil over injustices began to affect their small town, one of the daughters spoke up, and others listened. Why? Because she had an education, people listened. She knew she had the power to change the gang-ridden violence in her city and to tell others about it. Law enforcement saw her eloquence, her public rapport, and her strength as potential for great public embarrassment.

In terms of the physical abuse for non-compliance of rape in brothels, there is also a culture of physical abuse for women who refuse to honor their cultures, whether that is obedience to mother-in-laws, brothers, husbands, or potential husbands. In Ethiopia, when a boy cannot afford to provide funds to a girl’s father in order to marry her, there is a tradition in the countryside for boys to gather friends and steal a girl from her home. He then rapes her, and uses her lack of virginity as leverage for the family to by-pass the dowry owed to the girl’s father. When one girl and her father refused to abide by this “cultural law,” the town harassed them. When an aid group in America heard of this, they wrote a petition to change this law. Ethiopia changed the laws to make “dowry rape” illegal, but it seems unlikely that a law will change the culture. It is usually the other way around (more on this in a later blog post).

In the fourth chapter, the authors use a Biblical passage, taken out of context, of Deuteronomy 22:13-21 to describe the culture behind some of the thought in the third world countries. Let me start with a criticism of using religious texts in an attempt to explain culture– they are rarely used in context, and the people who quote them do not have the education necessary to truly understand the purpose, meaning, history, and implications of the text. There are passages in the Bible (the Torah, as well) and the Koran that are taken wildly out of context, and they do more damage than good. Times are different. We no longer sacrifice animals as penance for sin, so let’s stray from using texts that do not serve the people of those texts in a respectful manner.

With that being said, there are many religious implications of these ancient texts that can be (though they should not be)  used (and have been used) in order to support a man’s sexuality but to shame a woman’s sexuality. The passage from Deuteronomy that is shortened in the book basically makes one think that if a woman does not prove her virginity by bleeding on the sheets (a sign that her hymen broke), the town can stone her to death. As I conducted my own research on the passage, the translation used in the English version (the one quoted in the book) is not accurate (no surprise there). Yet, this is not a time to defend scripture, but the reader should know that he or she needs to do research before accusing religions of supporting women’s abuse.

While the book does not detail all of the cultural under-pinnings of women’s submission to men, religion is a large part. There are passages from major religions of the third-world area that speak of men “leading” women, choosing multiple wives, and not allowing women the same rights. These religious ideas are supported through the culture, rather than the culture supporting the religion. In another way, the meanings of these passages have been twisted in order to serve men, instead of being used to support women as well. The Congo is “the capital of rape” according to the authors (84). A woman’s virginity is held in such high esteem, that many women do not leave their houses because they fear rape on a daily basis. In a culture of fear, violence runs rampant and vice versa. The rapes are not so much for pleasure gratification as they are for a physical expression of the power that the military groups can hold over the people. Because rape does not kill (usually), it is less “messy” than slaughtering one’s enemies. Yet, it leaves people in fear and in submission, exactly where power-hungry leaders want the people to be.

A View of the Sky

In this post, I will examine the Introduction and first Chapter of Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Published in 2009, HTS became a national bestseller for its honest perspective of the “gendercide” of women in third world countries. Through human trafficking, sexual exploitation, labor injustices, and a cultural understanding of womens’ “inferiority,” the authors assert that developing countries, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, only experience “half the sky” of economic and cultural affluence.

The authors mention quite a few staggering statistics in the Introduction, but I will focus on the main idea of the Introduction. The Introduction presents a problem; somewhere, along the linear perspective of human existence, an idea of women’s inferiority emerged. This idea carries over from domestic relegations of cooking and cleaning, to the maltreatment of women in public, to forced marriages of young girls, to dirty factories, to lack of medical care, and ultimately, to the death of about 100 million women world-wide (Kristoff and WuDunn, xv).

While the inequality of women receives more publicity than in decades previous to the publishing of this book, the authors assert that the lack of media coverage, particularly in the sector of journalism, is due to the commonality of the sexism. Each day, millions of women are beaten, neglected, raped, tortured, and taken from their homes. Stories like this are so commonplace, journalists and media sites have swept over it. Perhaps they fear that readers will grow weary of the same issue, or perhaps it is simply because as a first-world country, we tend to only focus on “hot topic” news that directly affects our economic, social, and political needs. However, the authors challenge this idea (more on this later).

In developing countries, governments take a risk (and a blow) to their economies by preventing women from establishing meaningful and dignified occupations. The chief economist of the World Bank once stated that it was not a matter of whether or not countries could afford to educate women, but rather a question of could countries afford to not educate women (xx)?

What does this sky-line say about the community? Is this a place of economic opportunity for women?
What does this sky-line say about the community? Is this a place of economic opportunity for women?

When people refer to poverty and oppression as a “cycle,” people often overlook the actual meaning and significance of the word “cycle.” It is not happen-stance that educated people refer to it as a cyclic issue. HTS details just how cyclic sex trafficking, rather sexual slavery, is in poor countries.

In northern India, a woman named Meena was prostituted before her first menstrual cycle. Sold away from her family, she was then one of millions of women in sex industry. While her family may not have intended for her to be sold into slavery, it certainly could not have completely been an out-of-the-picture effect. While many young women fight and resist the customers, they soon learn that their survival depends on the meager nutrition, tattered clothing, and bug-infested quarters provided by their pimps.

But surely the owner of this place is a an angry, evil, and bitter old-man with all the wrong intentions…?

False. You see, this story, and the story of this book as a whole is not about blaming or stereotyping. It is about realizing that we all have a duty to each other to protect women and children around the globe.

So, no. The owner of the brothel was not male.  The “pimp” in Meena’s case was a matriarch, named Ainul Bibi. In her own words, she pimped other girls because she went through it as a young woman, and if her daughters had to do it, as well, then everyone else should, too.  You see, the cycle continues. What prevents one of Ainul’s sons from taking over the “family business,” even if it means prostituting his own daughters?

While all of this news seems utterly depressing and hopeless, there has been change to some areas as a result of ordinary people reaching out to protest abuse to women. Education is something that most families in developing countries can neither afford nor deem worth their children’s time. However, by bribing families to keep their daughters in school using attendance and truancy tools, many young women have graduated high school. They are literate and ready to contribute to the non-sex- industry of their countries’ economies.

In the streets of any city, there will constant opportunities to aid those in need. Injustice does not choose selective victims.
In the streets of any city, there will be constant opportunities to aid those in need. Injustice does not choose selective victims.

While it is easy to assert that other countries can just sit back and allow these “under-developed” countries to “figure out” their issues, we must realize that we are all connected. Though the news sites and programs may not cover the daily stories of individual women whose lives were torn apart by injustices, it does not make these stories trivial or helpless. The authors make a claim (and they continue to make the claim throughout the book) that the oppression of women does in fact affect everyone in this world. Indeed, unless we can fight for the causes of all women, we will only ever view “half the sky.”

Throughout my next posts, please take the time to visit the website in order to learn more information about how women in developing countries are changing the culture of oppression into a culture of opportunity.