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Book Club Series – Half the Sky

“Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.”

Welcome to the Women for Women International Book Club! This month we’re reading Half the Sky: How to Change the World by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. 

Published in 2009, Half the Sky made many “best books" lists, became a national bestseller, and brought widespread attention to the issues of gender inequality holding back our world. Since its initial publishing, the world has evolved, with progress for women in some areas and deepening complexity in others. The urgency of many of the global problems raised by the Pulitzer Prize-winning authors persists today, making it a book worth revisiting as we open a new decade amid a pandemic threatening women’s rights. 

What is this Half the Sky about?

Book cover for Half the Sky

Trigger warning: Sexual and gender-based violence, abuse, medical negligence

Half the Sky invites people to join a global movement towards women’s power by taking them around the world. Through the stories of women, the bestseller (and documentary) paints a picture of the harrowing plight women and girls face, focusing on three key issues: sex trafficking and sexual slavery, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality.

But it also shows that hope for the future of our world depends on women seizing their power. The women who were able to survive their circumstances and realize their power rebuilt and transformed their lives. Half the Sky highlights heroines who worked to unleash the potential of women in their communities and countries. For many women and their communities, global support funneled into local leadership were crucial to that success.

Kristof and WuDunn make the case for the rippling effects of investing in women in areas of health, education, financial power, and more as ways to address many of the pressing crises of our time. (Women for Women International's founder Zainab Salbi and the organization appear as one example!) The book closes with a call to action, pointing readers to ways they can support the cause of gender equality immediately. 

Discussion Questions

Check out the discussion questions below and connect with readers on Instagram to share your reactions, thoughts and questions by using the hashtag #WFWIBookClub, and tagging us with @womenforwomen. We want to hear what you think—share with us your take on the book!

  1. Since the 2009 publication Half the Sky, how has awareness about gender inequality evolved, if at all?

  2. What progress has been made towards women’s equality? What problems continue?

  3. What are the compounding factors that lead to or contribute to violence against women?

  4. “It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century” (Introduction). Why is the dire state of women in impoverished cultures, as set out by the authors in the introduction, also a great opportunity for them?*

  5. Given the scale of the modern slave trade, what do Kristof and WuDunn suggest as reasonable efforts towards ending human trafficking?*

  6. How does the story of Prudence Lemokouno illustrate the dangers of pregnancy and delivery in the developing world (Chapter Seven)? Does it seem an obvious and desirable principle that reproductive health should be considered an international human rights issue, as argued by Dr. Allan Rosenfield? What does the example of Sri Lanka prove about the possibilities of reducing women’s mortality rates in childbirth?*

  7. What is the impact of women having more knowledge about their bodies, their rights? What is the impact of more women and girls having access to an education?

  8. How does having economic and financial power impact women? What effect does it have on their communities overall?

  9. What are the effects of women’s leadership on their communities and nations? What steps can be taken to increase women’s leadership?

  10. Since publishing the book, Kristof and WuDunn have discussed that they would broaden the geographic scope of the book. What are some ways gender inequality manifests in your life? Your community?

  11. What role does the global community play in advancing women’s equality worldwide? How can people get involved in the movement for gender equality?

  12. What is the importance of achieving local buy-in for the success of initiatives?

  13. Why is local leadership crucial and especially local women’s leadership crucial to driving gender equality?

*Questions adapted from Half the Sky’s Reader Guide

Women Fleeing Afghanistan
”Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” —Dalai Lama