Book Review: “Half the Sky”

PrintA few weeks ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the 2013 Justice Conference, held in Philadelphia, PA.  I’ve been wanting to attend this event for several years, and was incredibly grateful for the scholarship that helped me get there.  The Lord knew it was what I needed at that time- an awakening, and an inspiration.

Having attended a Christian university filled with young, enthusiastic activists and having worked in the social justice/nonprofit field for some time now, I can see in retrospect a numbness that crept into my heart and stole my fire- one that couldn’t link statistics to individuals, one that had heard all of the horror stories, one that silently acknowledged that there would always be problems, and there was only so much we could do.  It was a numbness that was comfortable knowing the “sound bite” of an issue, feeling informed by a radio broadcast, but not knowing the depths of an issue or the nuances of what it would take to properly address them.  The Justice Conference, however, rekindled the call in my heart to the work of justice and the desire I once had to be informed and to be a voice for those who may not have a voice- and to speak well on their behalf, in a way that would truly benefit them, not just inject western culture into their lives in a way that would be harmful.

One of the many speakers to grace the stage was the captivating Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize winner and wife of NY Times’ Nick Kristof.  As with each speaker, she spoke of a specific injustice taking place in the world today- her speech was focused on injustices towards women, as she chronicles in her and her husband’s recent book, Half the Sky. As she eloquently engaged the audience in her stories of horror and hope from around the world, I knew that my next step would be to read her book- so I did!

The journey that reading Half the Sky has taken me on in the past week has been one that I will never forget- I don’t think I will ever look at the world the same way.  To think about the 100 million women who are missing from today’s population because of forced/coerced abortion, infanticide, genocide, spousal abuse, malnutrition based on gender preference, and honor killings breaks my heart.  Stories of young girls being tricked into sex slavery and trafficked far away from their home haunt me each time I see a small child. To read the studies that detail the power that putting funding into girl’s education in Asia could have, or even the difference that something as menial as iodizing salt could make, is infuriating and confusing.  To read about the millions women who are sentenced to be ostracized as pariahs because of fistulas that form during unattended births makes me almost as sad as thinking of the one woman- every MINUTE- that dies in childbirth, almost always from an entirely preventable, common complication.  The young girls forced into genital mutilation.  The women who must ask their alcoholic husbands for permission to leave their homes. There is so much more- and so much work to be done.

I really appreciated the honesty that the book brings to the table, especially in chronicling US foreign aid.  While certain efforts are celebrated, others are questioned, all when appropriate.  Stories of aid efforts failed are told alongside of brilliant plans to support cultures, giving the reader a deeper, more holistic understanding of the issue of injustice towards women. The most effective part, however, is that WuDunn and Kristof tell real stories of real women in the book- stories that you will remember and that will come alongside you in your journey to understand this issue.

If you read one book this year, make it this one.  Just as racial injustice didn’t see any measurable improvement until the public banded together and put pressure on governments and cultural norms, so will be the fight against gender injustice.  This fight will not be won by  quoting soundbites, but by understanding the issues on an intimate level and being able to articulate the problems and possible solutions in the most informed way possible.  Don’t settle for knowing the surface of the horror that millions of women around the world face.  Know their names, let them make a difference in your heart, and join the fight.

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There is also a “Half the Sky” documentary series available on PBS and Netflix.  I haven’t seen it yet but I am thinking about holding a screening- let me know if you would be interested!

THE FEED GIFT GUIDE!

You guys, it’s the Christmas season! Did you know? Oh…

Shopping with responsible consumerism in mind is downright terrifying, especially with Black Friday and every commercial ever and family wish lists breathing down your throat. Well, I hope to lend you a helping hand with a lovely Responsible Gift Guide!

FOR HER:

Etsy– this is a no brainer! Girls love jewelry, and no matter what her style, you can find something beautiful on Etsy. The great thing about Etsy is that it connects you directly to artisans- there isn’t any greed-crazed corporate middle man to deal with, just you and the creator. Now, in terms of materials or ingredient sourcing, you’ll have to investigate each shop to make sure that they fit your responsibility standards.

Light Gives Heat– amazing organization that partners with women in Uganda to create beautiful, handmade jewelry items, while teaching them life skills and providing counseling. Many of the women have been affected by or lost family members to the LRA forces. In addition to jewelry, the company also has many other lovely accessories, such as bags, tees, and scarves. Inventory is updated frequently and new styles come out all the time. I own several of their pieces and they are lovely! I’m loving this banana tree jewelry stand.

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Conscious Box– Full disclosure, I already know that I am getting one of these for Christmas, and I absolutely cannot wait! This is a package subscription program, and every month you are sent a box of goodies from socially responsible companies. They even have a vegan option!

Julep– Nail polish that is free of nasty chemicals, yet it affordable and on-trend. Similar to Conscious Box, they also have a monthly subscription program. Try the promo code “penny” to get your first box for, well, a penny!

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Roozt– This is a great outlet site for organizations and conscious brands to get their names and products out to consumers- and for consumers to score them for less. You can search based on “humanitarian gifts”, “eco-friendly gifts”, and more! Anything from body products to jewelry to belts to tees.

Everlane– this site operates on a new business model where they work directly with manufacturers to bring you high quality product for a lot less money. I’m not terribly sure about their sourcing, but I own a few of their tops and the quality is truly unmatched. Plus, you get rewards for referring friends!

LUSH– yes, everyone knows I love LUSH. If you’ve been my friend or read this blog for more than five seconds, you know. But do you know about their gifts? They really are spectacular. Gifts are themed and products are picked and wrapped- it’s all beautiful, colorful, and smells amazing. The recipient of a LUSH gift will be the happiest at the party, no doubt. It’s basically all I ask for for Christmas.

FOR HIM:

Dudes are intrinsically harder to shop for. Maybe its because I’m not a dude that I think this, but I really believe it’s true. However, there are some things that guys in general enjoy, and so I will try to play to those. If all else fails, check out Society6 or Roozt and find something fun there.

Patagonia– This clothing company is amazing. One of Better World Shoppers, highest rated companies for sustainability and responsible practices, they make high quality clothing, especially for outdoorsmen, that every guy on your list will love.

Society6– This is a super-cool site for artists. They upload their artwork, you pick the printing medium (canvas, card, iPhone case, etc). Really efficient way to find great artists and own some of their work for less.

REI– this is the place for a gift card. REI is every adventurers dream- if you can do it outdoors, they will have it. Another very highly ranked BWS company.

Coffee from a responsible company. Locally, we love Furnace Hills Coffee Company, a direct trade group that employs adults with disabilities, roasts here in town, and works directly with farmers worldwide. More readily available is Equal Exchange, which also makes the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

Hello Somebody watches are a great find for the fashion-forward man in your life. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, and sometimes with interchangeable faces. Their organization focuses on providing care to children through food, hydration, education, and freedom.

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Falling Whistles is an organization that focuses on advocating for peace in the Congo. Their product is one for a particular man of fashion- a large whistle on a chain necklace cannot be rocked by just anyon. They are also great for girls, too, but work really well as a masculine piece for a male that wears things like this.

THE GIVING GIFTS

Some of my favorite gifts that I have given, or received, are what I like to call ‘giving gifts’. These are gifts that someone else receives on behalf of your loved one- someone that needs it more. They are meaningful beyond just your relationship, and they help build the Kingdom with our generosity.

FH Catalog– Food for the Hungry is one of the most effective Christian holistic development agencies in the world. Their Gift Catalog allows you to bless a global family with something they need- be it a cow, chicken, mosquito net, or job training.

The Hunger Strike– When you buy a Mobilization Kit, you receive a tee, necklace, and more- and 48 meals are sent to famine-stricken areas of East and West Africa, as well as funding missionary programs and anti-poverty advocacy events.

Cure International– This organization works with children worldwide suffering from Hydrocephalus- something that two of my siblings are affected by as well. Your purchase helps to fund a lifesaving surgery for one of these children.

Save the Storks– This is a great small-scale pro-life organization run by our friends, Joe and Ann Baker. They work directly with Crisis Pregnancy Centers to equip them with sonogram buses to operate outside of abortion clinics, as well as providing counseling resources, support groups, and even alternative employment for abortion clinic workers. Their clothing is beautiful and makes a great ‘giving gift’.