Food for Thought: “Half the Sky”

Food for Thought is a regular feature profiling books, music, movies, and art with a human rights angle.

This week PBS (KERA in Dallas), will air New York Times journalists’ Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s documentary, “Half the Sky,” based on their best-selling book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which is already in its 25th printing.

WuDunn says the idea for the book and ultimately the documentary came from the couple’s time in China where they covered Tiananmen Square. During their time in China they noticed there were 30 million female babies missing in the countryside. The couple went to Japan and noticed there were gender-related problems there as well. They soon realized gender-based problems were a global phenomenon, not limited to any one region or country.

The documentary takes six American actresses to places around the world where women and girls are being routinely oppressed, but showcases organizations working to help change the lives of these women and girls. The documentary will focuses on six areas: sex trafficking, maternal mortality, gender-based violence, right to education, economic opportunity, and sexual slavery.

Sexual Slavery: America Ferrera visits India’s New Light Shelter founded by Urmi Basu in 2000, which works to protect and educate the vulnerable girls and women in the red light district in Kolkata. She hopes to afford the girls opportunities beyond the red light area.

Maternal Mortality: Diane Lane visits Somaliland’s Edna Adan Maternity Hospital, which focuses on providing healing and care for women. Adan’s goal for the hospital, which opened in 2002, is to train and dispatch 1,000 experienced midwives across the country. She was Somaliland’s first properly trained nurse-midwife and the first female to drive a car in her country.

Gender-based Violence: Eva Mendes visits Sierra Leone’s International Rescue Committee and its women’s protection and empowerment coordinator Amie Kandeh. She is a leading voice on women’s issues in Sierra Leona and manages Rainbo Centers, which are sexual-assault referral centers in West Africa. Kandeh also helped gained passage of the 2007 Gender Acts, which helped improve the rights of women in Sierra Leone.

Sex Trafficking: Meg Ryan travels to Cambodia’s Somaly Mam Foundation, which was founded by Somaly Mam, a former child brothel worker. After watching her best friend’s murder, Mam was able to escape the brothel and start a new life. Since then she has dedicated her life to saving and empowering other former brothel workers. Mam helps victims escape and provides them with the emotional and economic empowerment to rebuild their lives. Her foundation supports anti-trafficking organizations and helps give a voice to victims and survivors.

Education: Gabrielle Union travels to Vietnam to visit John Wood’s Room to Read non-governmental organization. Wood’s organization focuses on literacy and gender equality in education. Room to Read works with communities throughout Africa and Asia.

Economic Opportunity: Olivia Wilde travels to Kenya to visit two NGOs across the country. Wilde visits Ingrid Munro’s Jamii Bora organization, which is a microfinance institution helping Kenyan’s poor. The organization has helped nearly 250,000 people out of poverty. Wilde also visits Rebecca Lolosoli’s Umoja Women’s Village, where women sell beadwork to procure a living, built a school for children, and ultimately bought the land they live on. The women have increased their reliance on chicken, which affords the women more income and protein.

Sources:, CNN’s “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien,” and PBS’ “Independent Lens

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