On Tuesday, August 7th, a dozen humanists gathered at The Grind & Gallery Coffee Bar to discuss the book Half the Sky.

Half the Sky, written by husband and wife Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn documents the stories, facts, and solutions to a number of women's rights issues around the world. Specifically they cover sex slavery/trafficking, maternal mortality and fistulas, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, and general oppression of women.

Each chapter includes a few stories to build an emotional connection to the issues, followed by a well-backed argument based on statistics, and a few possible solutions from their experience and the evidence. These stories were quite emotional and only a handful of the attendees were able to finish the entire book. Kristof and WuDunn are always careful to try to base their suggestions on evidence and a desire to improve the conditions of the people they have met in their travels, an approach well received by our group.

Many of the solutions offered came not from large aid and government support programs, but from smaller, grassroots initiatives that build local buy in, emphasize women's education and economic empowerment.

The book was not without criticism from our group though. Some were quite skeptical of the blanket endorsement of male circumcision as a way to reduce the spread of AIDs in Africa (the authors noted several studies that suggest a circumcised male is less likely to transmit HIV), the call for sweatshops to be used as a stepping stone out of rural poverty, and the lack of condemnation for the Catholic Church that has done much to impede the flow of contraceptives and reproductive rights in the developing world.

Nevertheless, it was noted that in some cases the evangelicals have beaten humanist and secular organizations to supporting women who have been raped or sex trafficked. There is much work to be done, and we agreed that a joint humanist-religious project to promote women's rights could do the best by tempering the evangelical's tendency to proselytize.

I could write plenty more about this book, but instead I'm just going to highly recommend that you obtain a copy, or watch the documentary that is scheduled to be shown on PBS this October.


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