This book changed my life

December 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Half the Sky: How to Change the World

I’ve never written a book review before – and I don’t intend to do one now. All I will say is simply that if you are interested in politics, international development and any issues relating to women’s rights should read the book Half The Sky: How to Change the World by two American journalists, Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn. I’ve just finished it, and I genuinely think it’s fair to say it changed the way I think about issues relating to women forever.

To quote from the opening chapter: “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way – not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.”

The phrase “half the sky” is from a quote from Mao Zedong, who for all his (massive) faults did mange to bring in some measures which benefitted women enormously. In fact the organisation Half the Sky  targets Chinese orphans in reference to this famous quote. This book looks at issues relating to the sex trade, war, maternal mortality, women’s involvement in politics, education – in short, all the things this blog writes about. It details real examples and individual cases, but counters it with how they fit into the worldwide scheme of poverty and development. The main thrust of the book is that if only half of the population of any country are being educated, working and contributing to the economy, then the country can only ever reach half of it’s potential. Some parts of this book are easier to swallow than others, inevitably, and some parts will make you cry and stay with you indefinitely. But what is so brilliant about it is the way that it takes a real hands-on, grass roots approach. The final chapter is entitled Four Steps you can take in the next ten minutes and the back is a full index of charities, NGOs and women’s groups worldwide that you can get involved with, and how to contact them. It is the bible of women’s rights and I know I will be referring to it again and again. Let me know what you think.

“Sensationally interesting – I think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed” – Washington Post

Gulf states still fail to protect Sri Lankan maids

November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Human Rights Watch is highlighting today the plight facing women working in the Middle East after Sri Lankan maids were taken to hospital reporting abuse at the hands of their employers.

This is an area ripe for abuse. More than 1.7m Sri Lankans work abroad – the vast majority being women – because they can earn more pay than they would do at home, particularly given the civil wars which have plagued the country over the last twenty years.

But this is an area which is constantly neglected, to the extent where they are referred to as “daily occurances” in the UAE. These women are reporting being forced to “swallow nails” when asking to be paid (after six months of work), and for having nails driven into their foreheads, arms and legs, along with passports being seized and long working days without breaks. The stories are chillingly familiar. In 2007, Human Rights Watch published a report calling for Gulf states to take action because of hideous assaults on domestic Sri Lankan staff.

How many times does an issue have to be raised before action will be taken? In 2007 HRW called for the UAE to extend labour laws to include domestic workers, to re-think immigration laws so that workers are not tied to their employers, and to regulate the industry and working conditions . Three years ago Gulf states responded angrily that they had made a lot of progress in this area – today’s news suggests there is still a long way to go.

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