18 March 2016 | Adult Non-Fiction

Half the sky – book review

Half the sky

I wish I could convince everyone to read this book – not because it’s entertaining or it’s beautifully crafted or it’s on a best-selling list. But because it tells the stories of many girls and women in developing countries who otherwise wouldn’t be heard. Here’s a mini version of their stories. (This may not be appropriate for children to read.)

Sunitha, India – The gang of men opposed to her efforts raped her.

Abbas, India – Abbas had been taken to Delhi as a young teenager to work as a maid, but instead she found herself sold to a brothel and beaten with a cricket bat to induce obedience.

Woineshet, Ethiopia – For two days, the kidnapers casually battered and raped Woineshet.

Zoya, Afghanistan – “I should not have been beaten, because I was always obedient and did what my husband said. But if the wife is truly disobedient, then of course her husband has to beat her.”

Halima, Pakistan – But her parents were worried that she would soon hit puberty, and they wanted her to be married off before she might develop a crush on someone else and start people gossiping – or damage her most valuable possession of all, her hymen.

This is not an easy book to read. The women’s and girls’ stories are horrific, and for every girl telling her story there are thousands behind her whose story ended in death or disaster. I could only read it in small chunks at a time.

But what I have done is talk about a mild version of these stories with my kids. And we have donated to Room to Read, a charity which builds libraries and provides girls with mentors, uniforms and school supplies. And my bookclub discussed the book this week, and there were many there motivated to do something as well.

The authors, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, were the first married couple to win a Pulitzer prize. They include a huge list of notes and organisations supporting women which you can donate to or research in their book. You can also find out more or donate though the Half the sky website here. I particularly liked this message from the website –

‘But educating girls is the key to building stable, egalitarian communities. An educated girl knows her value and will demand her rights. A child born to an educated mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5. A woman earns 20 percent more for every year of school she attends. Educating girls now will create opportunities in the future. As Nicholas Kristof notes in his article What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?, “Ultimately, the greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.”’

Girls reading books – that’s definitely something I believe in.


Terri Dixon

Karen thank you for bringing this book to our attention. The stories of these girls need to be told.


March 18, 2016 at 7:51 am


Karen, thank you for sharing these stories and the organisations supporting the education of women.

March 18, 2016 at 8:38 am


Sharing these stories although confronting and from where I sit seemingly so remote, increases awareness that can lead to action (I’ll be acting by donating as a start). Education in many forms is an essential foundation for bettering the lives of girls (and boys) and their families. Thank you Karen for sharing these stories and being part of this education programme.

March 18, 2016 at 10:09 am


This does sound like a confronting read, Kare, but it’s important for us to read these stories to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are to live in the country that we do. As my Pip said, whilst she might complain about school at times, how lucky is she that she has a school to go to.

March 21, 2016 at 8:15 pm

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