I just read the most amazing book. Normally I save my book reviews for Goodreads, but this one is so important that I'm writing about it. It's called "Half the Sky - Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide".
A week or two ago, I read an article in the NY Times Magazine by these authors which talked about microfinancing that is funneled to women in third world countries, and how and why it has been so successful. It was a fascinating article that showed how a $65 loan to a woman in the slums in India allowed her to go from a object in her home, who was frequently beaten, uneducated, and had no options, to become a successful business woman sending her kids to college, who is respected in the home and in the community. Yes, I am always skeptical about these sorts of stories - like it's great that it can happen for one person, but is that really the norm? However, the article was truly thought provoking and really forced me to look at the grey in some situations. One of the concepts that they brought out to think about was that we know that sweat shops are horrible situations, and the labor and low pay and forced overtime are all horrible - but that the only thing worse than having a sweat shop job is NOT having s sweat shop job and starving, at the whims of bad harvests, and not able to educate yourself and your children. It really made me think, and when I looked the authors up and saw that they had a book coming out on this topic this week, I immediately decided that I had to read it.
Half the Sky was an incredible book because it captured your attention, told stories through particular people, showed that NO aid is 100% successful and clearly described the challenges of giving aid - not only to show the pitfalls and issues, but to also try to avoid them. There are no Cindarella stories, and the authors take the time to show how difficult change can be for each individual and all of the social and economic impacts of making those changes.
The stories and information are often difficult to understand, gruesome, and painful to read - but they are happening to people all over the globe. However this is not a book that you read and feel down-trodden about the world. It's subtley uplifting throughout and lets you know that there are ways to change the world - but that some are better than others. It was surprising in that in some situations the authors supported drastic actions, and other times really "soft" options, that may not be palatable but have still shown that they are effective for long term improvement.
Some of the things that I learned that were fascinating -
Today, 2009, there are more women actually sold and trafficked in the sex trade across international borders than there were slaves taken from Africa during the height of the of the slave trade in the 1780's. Granted, there are more people in the world today, but it does not account for the millions of women who are sold into sex slavery within the borders of their own country.
The most effective means of keeping girls in school - give them a uniform every 18 months, pay the parents $10 a month if the girl has perfect attendance, feed her at school. That's all that it takes.
One of the best parts of the book (aside from the quotes at the beginning of each chapter which were awesome) was that it gave you many different ways to help and make a difference, whether it was letter writing, sponsoring a woman, donating time to a foundation, loaning to microfinancees, etc. After reading this book, I went to kiva.org, which is a microfinance organization that allows people all over the world to lend directly to people in need. The agreement is that once the small group receives the money, they will repay it within a year, and that if one person in the group defaulted, the others would be willing to pay the difference. You can donate a minimum of $25 to any group that you pick (you can search by gender, country, loan amount, proposed business, etc) and once the group receives the necessary funds, the loan starts.
I picked a group of five women who are hoping to open a clothing business, and who needed $450 for all five of them to start. They had received donations from a variety of people, and were only waiting on $50 to get started. I loaned them the remainder, and now these five women (pictured above) will be able to start their clothing business, and improve their own lots. Once they repay the loan, I plan to lend it to someone else.
Many starfish washed up on shore. A young boy started picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. Someone saw what he was doing and told him that it was pointless, that there were too many to save, that it wouldn't make a difference. Throwing another starfish into the sea, the little boy responded, "It makes a difference to this one."