Can We Really Change the World?

I have been mesmerised by a book “Half the Sky – How to Change the World,” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. “Half the Sky” is based on an old Chinese proverb “Women hold up half the sky” and essentially the message is we’re in it together and the empowerment of women is fundamental for the future of humanity.

This book takes you through all of the major issues affecting women in the world, but also how those issues, if tackled correctly, can improve not just women’s lives, but everyone’s lives. It is an incredibly balanced book, it doesn’t judge, and probably most importantly, it doesn’t point the finger of blame at men. In fact, when relevant, it focuses on how women can be the ones responsible for truly horrendous customs (in my opinion,) like female genital mutilation.

The key issues facing women around the world include things like sexual slavery, female education, maternal mortality, female infanticide, family planning, honour rapes and honour killings, AIDs and STDS, as well as lack of education, amongst many other things. But it also focuses on the amazing things being done, not by the global aid groups, but at the local level by people who understand the issues because they live the issues. It looks at microcredit and how this has enhanced everyone’s lives. It tells the story of Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman gang raped as punishment for her brother’s “supposed” crime, but rather than kill herself, as she would be expected to do, she’s gone on to set up schools for women all over Pakistan. It hasn’t come without its troubles, but what an amazing woman. As they say in the book, don’t hit people with figures, tell them individual stories – that is when people act.

The book talks about fistulas and the devastating impact this has on women’s lives. Fistulas were once common all over the world, but they are repaired instantly in most countries. In Africa, they destroy lives. Don’t know what a fistula is? Check out who explain: “A fistula is simply a hole between an internal organ and the outside world that should not exist. There are two primary causes of fistula in women in developing countries: childbirth, causing obstetric fistula and sexual violence, causing traumatic fistula.

“Obstetric fistula is the most devastating of all childbirth injuries.

“An obstetric fistula develops when blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and the bladder (and/or rectum) is cut off during prolonged obstructed labor. The tissues die and a hole forms through which urine and/or faeces pass uncontrollably. Women who develop fistulas are often abandoned by their husbands, rejected by their communities, and forced to live an isolated existence.”

This book talks about global aid and how some has worked brilliantly, but how the politicization of aid can essentially kill people. Sometimes it’s because of a lack of understanding of cultures, but also because of pressure at home. For example, George W. Bush cut off funding to Mary Stopes International because this organisation was helping to provide abortions in China. Naturally the conservative Christians and pro-lifers are big Bush supporters, but do you know what happened?

“The funding cut forced Mary Stopes to drop a planned outreach program to help Somali and Rwandan refugees. It had to close two clinics in Kenya and to lay off eighty doctors and nurses.”

Who knows how many lives were lost because of this – both mothers and babies? Doesn’t seem like a very pro-life or Christian stance to me. These women are refugees – I cannot even imagine how hard their lives are – and having given birth to two children myself, I long for a world where everyone gets a similar standard of care. Thankfully Barrack Obama resumed funding to Mary Stopes.

From the book: “Driven in part by conservative Christians, Republican presidents, including both Bushes, instituted the ‘gag rule,’ barring funds to any foreign aid group that, even with other money, counselled women about abortion options or had any links to abortions. As a result, said a Ghanaian doctor, Eunice Brookman-Amissah, ‘contrary to its stated intentions, the global gag rule results in more unwanted pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, and more deaths of women and girls.”

It’s a frightening world out there on many levels, but this book doesn’t leave you reeling with shock and horror, it gently informs and talks us through some pretty painful stories and how sometimes people get free of their hell. It is hopeful, simple and inspiring. I’ve wanted to do something for a long time, and this has consolidated my thoughts. I have an idea so will share it with you when I have time to formulate it.

In the meantime, the book leaves us with four things we can do in the next 10 minutes that can change lives.

Here they are in summary:
1. Go to or and open an account. I love Kiva, but will check out globalgiving too – any money you pay goes directly to the people
2. Sponsor a girl or a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service
3. Sign up for email updates on – done! As well as – done!
4. Join the CARE Action Network at

If you want to do research into worthy aid groups, and enable you to understand who’s doing what and where you’re money goes – so if you do not want to contribute towards paying rent for swanky offices in NYC or high salaries, these sites show you how money is being spent.

Also, did you know that really basic initiatives can change lives?

  • School uniforms mean more girls go to school
  • If girls have sanitary napkins they’re more likely to go to school
  • De-worming increases school attendance and attention span
  • Iodine improves brain health – apparently tens of millions of children lose 10 IQ points because of iodine deficiency while their brains are being formed in the uterus- but females foetuses are more prone to damage – only $19 million dollars is needed to tackle this problem
  • For $1.6 billion a 12 year project would obliterate fistulas and lay the groundwork for a decrease in maternal mortality – I wonder how many weapons you could buy for $1.6 billion… not many I expect

So there you go. Maybe someone will buy the book (profits go to charity) and some may be reminded to do something they’ve always wanted to do… I hope so. This book is completely told from an American perspective, but if you really want to know or need to know what’s going on and what you, the individual, can do about it to make a difference, I reckon this is awesome. Apparently it will also make you happier if you are engaged in charitable work – of any description. It is the sense of purpose you’ll gain that makes you happy, so I’d see that as a win-win!

We all need to work together to hold up the sky, and there’s some great ideas here. As they say at the end “Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings, and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding. The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete – and whether each of us will be part of this historical movement, or a bystander.”

I gotta do something. I’ve needed to do something more for a while.

Yours, without the bollocks

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