I've already told you about Half the Sky, the new book about the state of women around the world by husband-wife team Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. If you're not intrigued enough, Slate columnist Johann Hari has given us some more reasons to check out the book--or at the very least, investigate the subject.
Here is what she writes:
"While we rightly roared at racial apartheid, we act as though gender apartheid is a natural, immutable fact. With absolutely the right Molotov cocktail of on-the-ground reporting and hard social science, Kristof and WuDunn blow up this taboo. They ask: What would we do if we believed women were equal human beings, with as much right to determine their life story as men? How would we view the world differently?"
"They take the reader on a grand tour of all the issues that are ignored because women are ignored. For example—who has heard of fistula? It is today's leprosy, causing 2 million women to live and die as despised outcasts—yet it is virtually unknown. When a woman has a long, obstructed labor with no doctors to help her deliver, the blood supply to her vagina, bladder, and rectum can be cut off. The tissues die, and a hole is ripped in her flesh. From that hole, shit and piss will leak for the rest of her life in one long incontinent streak. Because she stinks, she is rejected by her husband and her community, and forced to live scavenging on the streets.
In every African town, you see fistula-stricken women, wandering aimlessly, their heads down in shame. They are the saddest people I have ever met. But this problem is cruelly easy to treat. For $300, a fistula can be repaired in 90 percent of cases. Fistula can be beaten, if only we value women enough to do it. There used to be a fistula hospital in Manhattan. Today, it is the Waldorf-Astoria.
Or how about the enslavement of women in brothels, which is now far larger than the trans-Atlantic slave trade at its height? Some 3.5 million women are being jailed, drugged, and raped for cash today. This brutalization of women doesn't have to happen any more than the enslavement of Africans did in the 18th century. As the authors write: "The tools to crush modern slavery exist, but the political will is lacking. That must be the starting point of any abolitionist movement." International pressure—set in motion by the acts of ordinary citizens—works."
Hari doesn't blink at the book's flaws, criticizing the couple's defense of sweatshops (Kristof believes the work women find in these squalid factories is, in the long run, better than staying home and working the fields).
"Anti-sweatshop campaigners—who he has explicitly chided—want all factories, everywhere, to adhere to certain minimum standards: No use of beatings, a maximum working day, safety precautions. Then they won't be sweatshops; they'll just be factories.
Whenever he is confronted with this argument, Kristof says that any country that imposes basic human conditions on sweatshops loses its trade to a country that won't and women suffer. But this ignores an obvious truth: Anti-sweatshop campaigners want to see these rules imposed everywhere. There should be no escape clauses and no places where multinational corporations can go to cheaply abuse women for a few extra pennies of profit."
Regardless, I'm planning on checking out this book--and soon. Tell me: are there other books I should add to my reading list? What have you read that informed and inspired you?