If you missed the documentary Half the Sky on the PBS show Independent Lens check the site to see if your local station will be airing it again. Based on a book by two NYT journalists, the film documents 6 female actors/actresses in their immersion into the mistreatment of women and girls in developing countries, and the positive solutions for each problem. Each in a different location, with extremely difficult yet uplifting stories and experiences.
Eva Mendes with the children in Sierra Leone
Meg Ryan travels to Cambodia to see how young girls, as young as 3, are rescued from brothels and given new life of safety, encouragement, but most importantly Love.
- Diane Lane travels to Somaliland to see how a local woman runs a hospital to treat women, in this country where women are considered dispensable, and sees the full effects of genital cutting.
- Eva Mendes visits Sierra Leone to see the cultural acceptance of rape, and some of the consequences, reminding girls there how to limit a man’s power over her life experience.
- America Ferrara sees first hand how children of prostitutes live and learn each day in India.
- Gabrielle Union relates on a very personal to the young girls in Vietnam struggling to get an education when their families are not supportive of female advancement. As a victim of rape herself, she used a focus on education to survive and move past the tragedy.
- Olivia Wilde goes to Kenya where they are trying to overcome poverty by getting more of the family finances into the women and mothers control. “The men buy the soda, the women buy most of the milk for the children… and buy the yogurt.” Shop owner.
What is amazing in each location, is to see the individual women working tirelessly to improve the lives of other women in their countries. “In the last half century alone, more women and girls have died as a result of gender discrimination than all the men who died in all the battles of the 20th century, and more girls were killed in any one decade than all of those who died in the genocides of last century.” “This is not a problem that is unsolvable, that we have to invent something new. It just takes political will.” Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of Half the Sky
In this documentary, we see individual women, many of them are past victims of these crimes, solving these problems and benefiting hundreds or thousands of women and girls. I was amazed to see Cambodian girls, previously rescued from brothels where they were forced into prostitution and abused, now they are going into the community to teach men and women how to use condoms.
The US does have a hand in some of these repressions and abuse. Sex Tours are sold here to visit these countries. “What’s hard about being on the other side of the world, is that the problem seems so big. It seams like changing one life isn’t enough, but it is.” America Ferrera But the film and book do not give much detail on what US and Western influence has on these situations. However, the book concludes with several ideas of how we can help further improvements, including very simple steps for people who cannot contribute much time or funding. The easiest is simply micro-financing through programs such as Kiva which you can do online. Nick and Sheryl are very critical of various solutions, pointing out where some programs are not as efficient as we would hope.
All of this is based on the revelations in the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The book goes into a lot more detail, and specific stories of female abuse.
“When you educate a girl, you educate a village.” Sheryl WuDunn It’s common for people to think we need public policy and governmental regulations to make the change. But history shows that is not enough. Just as the civil rights movement needed a phase of protest and social outcry for change in the US, there has to be a cultural change and change of perception to compliment the regulations.
TED Talks by Sheryl WuDunn: Our Century’s greatest injustice