SEATTLE — Half the Sky, published in 2010 by two journalists, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, looks at women’s issues worldwide and argues in favor of women’s empowerment as a means to reduce global poverty.
Five years after its publication, Half the Sky has become part of a canon of literature for women’s rights and raised much awareness on the state of affairs for women around the world.
The inspiration for Half the Sky comes from a Chinese proverb: women hold up half of the sky. By unlocking the potential for women, countries improve drastically.
To bring weight to this argument, the authors focus on issues such as modern slavery, prostitution, rape as a weapon, honor rapes and killings, maternal morbidity, family planning, misogyny in Islamic countries, girls’ education, genital mutilation, women in the workforce and community development.
Here are ten statistics used by the authors in the book and how they compare to 2015 statistics.
There are 27 million modern slaves. According to the International Labor Organization, there are currently 21 million slaves, indicating that there are six million fewer people enslaved. However, 11.5 million of these individuals are women and children, indicating that modern slavery affects women and children more. 4.5 million people are trapped in forced sexual exploitation.
The number one cause of death or maiming for women aged 15-44 is male violence. Now, it is HIV, followed by maternal death. The WHO estimates that 35 percent of women worldwide are survivors of partner and/or non-partner physical or sexual violence; prevalence is highest in Southeast Asia and Africa. Globally, 38 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
536,000 women die worldwide giving birth. Rates for maternal morbidity is 490 deaths per 100,000 live births in South Asia, 900 deaths per 100,000 live births in sub-Saharan Africa, and 2,100 in Sierra Leone. 261,000 women died giving birth in Africa.
In 2013, the WHO estimated that 236,000 women died giving birth; this is a significant drop in maternal morbidity. Current estimates place 800 women dying from childbirth daily; 500 are from Africa and 190 are in Southern Asia. Sierra Leone’s rate has decreased significantly from 2,100 deaths to 1,100.
USAID receives $370 million in funding for maternal and child care. USAID’s 2016 budget includes $8.1 billion for three main goals: end preventable child and maternal deaths, protect communities from infectious diseases, and create an AIDS-free generation.
The proposed budget includes more than $770 million for maternal and child care and $538 million for reproductive health and family planning. This is a huge step up from 2005 levels.
Agencies that provide counseling for women that include abortion as an option or provide abortions do not receive U.S. federal funding. This was a part of the “gag rule” implemented by former President George W. Bush.
The United Nations Family Planning Agency (UNFPA) has been targeted in particular by pro-life, anti-abortion politicians. President Obama revoked this rule. USAID has proposed $35 million worth of funding for the UNFPA this year.
For every 150 unsafe abortions performed in sub-Saharan Africa, a mother dies. In contrast, the rate for women in the U.S. is less than 1 per 100,000. The death rate from abortion has decreased from 56,000 in 2003 to 47,000 in 2008. In Africa, 98 percent of abortions performed were considered unsafe.
Women are seen as secondary to men in Muslim countries. Specifically, 25 percent of Egyptians believe that a woman should be able to become president and 54 percent of Afghan women believe a woman should wear a burka outside.
The gender inequality index remains at 2005 levels for Yemen, Jordan, and Bahrain, where inequality is primarily due to unequal access to education and earned income. In Iraq, the gender inequality index has increased, indicating greater gender inequality.
In Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, it has decreased. For Egypt, Pakistan and many other countries the gender inequality index has not been updated since 2005. The 2005 report from UNDP where this data comes from specifically focused on women, which may explain the lack of updated data.
It is rare for women to be able to participate in the workforce in Muslim countries with the exception of agricultural labor. Six percent of women in Yemen are employed in nonagricultural work and in Pakistan, nine percent of women are employed.
This is a contrast to the U.S. and China, where women make up between 40-50 percent of the workforce. Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria, Syria, Lebanon and Timor-Leste all have less than 25 percent of women participating in the labor force.
Three million girls undergo genital mutilation annually. 149 million worldwide are estimated to have been cut. The UNFPA estimates that 100-140 million women and girls alive today have been cut; this is similar to WHO’s estimate that 125 million have been cut. WHO today places three million girls at risk annually. This shows that while awareness of the issue has increased, not much has changed on this issue.
The United Nations World Food Programme, which pays children’s families to keep them nourished and in school, is short of reaching fifty million more children.
The World Food Programme is the largest humanitarian agency addressing hunger, which kills more people annually than the combined death tolls for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. There are 66 million hungry school-age children; the WFP was able to provide meals to 25.9 million children in school in 2011.
This indicates a shortage of 41 million children, implying that the WFP reaches 9 million more children than it did in 2007, where the data for Half the Sky originated.
While it is clear that there is still much work to be done, there is also much to be celebrated. Five years later, significant progress has been made in feeding hungry children, reducing maternal morbidity rates around the world and increasing funding for organizations that support impoverished women and children.
These successes should rightfully be celebrated and, most importantly, serve as motivation to continue work to help empower and support communities worldwide.
– Priscilla McCelvey
Sources: Guttmacher Institute, Half the Sky (2010), International Labour Organization, USAID, UNDP Arab Human Development Report, UNFPA, Washington Post, WHO 1, WHO 2, WHO 3, WHO 4, World Food Programme 1, World Food Programme 2