Half The Sky

28 Jan

I just finished a fabulous book called Half the Sky.

Half the Sky is a collection of first hand accounts and statistics of atrocities done to women recently (we’re not talking about foot binding a century ago we’re talking about interviews with 14 year old girls who were freed from brothels in the last 12 months) around the globe.

I read the book mostly on my commute to work so I spent a lot of time tearing up on the subway reading passages like

… a UN report claims that 90 percent of girls and women over the age of three were sexually abused in parts of Liberia during civil war there.

And I googled it.  Libera was in Civil war from 1989-1996 and again from 1999-2003. Those girls who were 3 years old and had a 90 percent chance of being raped in 1993 are my age.

“When I treat rape victims, I tell the girls not to go to the police… because if a girl goes to the police the police will rape her.”

Of course rape, even mass rape, are not the only topics of the book.  It spends a lot of time talking about the maternal mortality rates in various countries.

I cried over the story of a woman who was married so young that when she got pregnant her pelvis hadn’t grown large enough to pass a baby and so the obstructed birth had caused a fistula (another word that, growing up in my sheltered world, I never had to learn until it came up one day on Grey’s Anatomy).

Over the stories of women with fistulas just like hers from obstructed labor, rape, rape with pointy sticks, before this book I had only heard the word fistula used on a medical drama and now I know of the names and towns of women who have been left to rot by their families because they had a fistula which caused their feces to run uncontrollably and their parents couldn’t tolerate the smell and took them to huts on the edge of town to be eaten by hyenas.

One interviewed man said it was unfortunate that there was no female doctor in his town because if his mother were sick and dying he would still forbid her from being seen by a male doctor.

The topics in this book are by no means new to me but the scale killed me.  Story after story of girls younger than me brutalized, left for dead, just generally thought to be unworthy of saving merely because they were born female.

One of the great points the book makes isn’t just ‘hey look at these atrocities and feel guilty.’  It reminds the reader over and over again that educating girls, lowering the maternal mortality rate, and allowing women to be productive members of society is good for society.  It boosts economies.  It pulls entire villages out of poverty and the hands of gangs.

Helping girls isn’t just helping girls, it’s helping you.  The last chapter in the book is ‘what you can do now’ because by the time you get to the end of the book all you want to do is pitch in.  And the book provides dozens of options.  Charities that help women with fistulas, schools, organizations that accept money, organizations that accept volunteers, interns, whatever you have to give, they make it easy for you to connect with someone who will appreciate it.

I brought this up at dinner a few nights ago and my mother blurted out ‘oh, don’t mind her, she’s in her feminist stage.’  I’ve never been so ashamed of her.  As a doctor she should understand the drive to help people.  Everyone (worth anything) has felt the need to help people.  I do too.  

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