Watch Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (available from PBS.org) and on a systems and political level you will be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the seemingly-impossible job that needs to be done; on a personal level, you will be devastated by the cruelty, violence, and discrimination practiced against hundreds of millions of women and girls throughout the world, particularly in developing nations.
Many women in America have, at one time or another throughout their lives felt devalued because of their gender. There was a time (and it still happens) that a woman would be ignored by salesmen in an appliance store or car dealership because she was unaccompanied by a “decision-maker”—a man. There are many cultures within the United States where men still do all the talking and arranging even when the subject is of concern to their mates only.
For women to feel they are devalued, though, is a privilege of those who live in a society where they are believed to have value and potential. American women are wage earners, property buyers, child raisers, voters—because they are an economic and social force, they have value. In other parts of the world, women are disposable, expendable, valueless. They live in societies where a husband can murder his wife with impunity, women and young girls are regularly raped and then rejected by their families and communities, education is not “wasted” on women, and girls as young as three-years-old are sold to the sex trade (prostitution, sex-trafficking).
We in developed, industrialized countries think of these things as injustices, but in places like Somaliland and Nairobi, women have no rights—the term “justice” does not apply to them. Half the Sky visits ten countries, exposing conditions that are—at best—inhumane and introducing viewers to activists who are battling the oppression of women, empowering and educating them so they and their children can have better lives.
Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn invited six actress/activists “to meet face-to-face with inspiring individuals working to bring about change and the women and girls who confront extreme gender inequality in their daily lives.” Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, Diane Lane, America Ferrera, and Olivia Wilde individually accompanied the documentary team, speaking with both the victims and those committed to changing intolerable situations (some of whom are nothing less than saints).
Girls recalling victimization and sharing their hopes for the future tell their stories along with women who have been forced (or born) into prostitution, beaten, raped, mutilated, and deprived of even the most basic human rights. Some things viewers see and hear will be painful, there will be tears of sympathy, and perhaps that whoosh we hear as the program airs will be the sound of millions of eyes opening to realities that are nearly unbearable to consider.
Half the Sky is a beautifully-made documentary that depicts the worst and gives hope for the best. The locations, of course, are stunning—whether sex-traffic slums or a lioness at rest in Kenya. It does not over-emotionalize the issues it presents, and is not political (although politics certainly allow these circumstances to exist, and economics and politics could serve to lessen or eliminate them as they did with South African apartheid).
If we believe these conditions affecting hundreds of millions of people are more than we can change, then we are saying that we are cowardly, weak, and powerless; if we can look at the suffering and not do anything, we are without hearts. Half the Sky speaks to those with intelligence and conscience who know that everyone can do something, appealing to all of us to take responsibility for our fellow human beings—not solving their problems, but helping them find solutions.