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Amy Brenneman: Half My Sky, Too

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An event I went to recently made me realize how truly lucky I am to be a woman.

Woman smiling

Amy Brenneman: I attended an event last week called "Half the Sky Live." It was to celebrate International Women's Day, March 4. The program was sponsored by CARE and featured Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, co-authors of "Half the Sky," a book that is changing my life and the lives of so many others.

In this blog I haven't endorsed many things. I find I'm using the blog more as a space to explore internal processes and the significance (or not!) of the small things in my life -- moments with children, moments in traffic, moments plucking my chin hairs -- in an effort to seek meaning that maybe resonates with others. But "Half the Sky" .... Wow. If you've read it, you know what I mean. If you haven't? Run, don't walk.

Kristoff and WuDunn's subtitle says it all: "Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." Their thesis -- and the basis of this new "movement," as they call it (I don't disagree) -- is that the solution to the world's poverty and warring is in the elevation and inclusion of women in all parts of society. Scourges like maternal mortality, exclusion from education, violence towards women and sex trafficking must be eradicated in order for cultures to have sustainable economies, social equality and lasting peace.

I used to think that these issues were noble, but a bit sentimental and certainly secondary to the "real" issues (such as military interventions and market economies). Not anymore. Women's well-being is now understood to be at the center of solving these issues -- and a predictor of the stability of a society. In addition to looking at military maneuvers, army generals now routinely look at the number of girls who attend school as a predictor of the stability of a region. The percentage of women in government is used to predict the stability of a nation. And economists have determined that, without a doubt, the best way to eradicate poverty -- dollar for dollar -- is to invest in a young girl's education.

I myself have become obsessed with micro-loans. I can't get enough of these stories, and "Half the Sky" is full of them. The woman in Burundi who, at 35, had never handled money or worked outside of the home -- and who watched her husband drink the family's meager living away in the local bar? This woman joined a local women's collective and received a $2 loan to grow a larger field of crops. She grew a bumper crop that year, made $7, paid the loan back (with interest) and took out another. Then she started a banana-beer business, which is making an ongoing profit.

Now, I come from a long line of addicts and alcoholics. Not a great legacy, mind you, but mixed into that is a lot of recovery, too. Anyone who knows alcoholic (or other dysfunctional) family dynamics knows that sometimes it takes just one person changing -- one person getting healthier and stepping outside of the cycle of dysfunction -- to change the entire family system. I think of that often while reading these micro-loan stories. The reverberations of these women's actions are profound: Their husbands have newfound respect for them, so if there has been domestic violence, it often stops. The family now has money to send its daughters to school. Those daughters in turn have fewer children. Because there are fewer births, there is less of a chance of maternal mortality. And on and on and on.

Buddhist tradition talks about lucky births. As a woman born into a family with enough money and an abundance of love, I have been luckier than most. These women were not so lucky. And yet they were born into an era when "Half the Sky" stories are capturing the world's attention and people like me are moved to act. These stories contain so much suffering -- but in equal measure, so much hope. Check them out. You just might recognize yourself in their stories, from half a world away. For more information go to or

next: Should Chris Brown Be Speaking at Schools?
52 comments so far | Post a comment now
carissa Dehn-Gurbacki March 8, 2010, 9:42 PM

i am a proud member of the honors human rights course at my school and am working on an independent action project. I read Half the Sky recently, and i truly believe that no country can afford NOT to educate the women of it—and that it’s about time everybody hop on board and make it happen. so i read this book, and i just found out that it was made into a movie. it’s my understanding that it was only a one day event, and i’m so upset because i would have loved to see it…and more importantly, i wanted to have a movie screening at my school for this independent project as a way to spread to word because i know that when a person reads this book, or sees the movie, they won’t be able to just close their eyes to it…because the mind, once expanded, can never return to it’s original size…anyway! do you have any ideas about where i could go, or who i could talk to about getting my hands on this movie?

AT March 8, 2010, 10:36 PM

Hi Amy, have you heard of John Wood’s Room to Read?
It basically seeks to give kids in Third World places a leg up by focussing on basic literacy. And one key part of its mission is particularly focussed on supporting the education of girls in these places, because - as you noted in your blog - it’s especially the girls who dont get to finish school, if at all they get to go. Check out RTR :)
And thanks for another great post - the previous 5th March one too! Keep well, stay well; thanks for sharing and inspiring! cheers, anna

Caitlin March 9, 2010, 10:02 AM

Hi Amy,
Half the Sky IS amazing. Thanks for your great blog to remind me that I read the book, loved it, and intended to pass it to my mom and friends - somehow I think it’s buried on my bedside table.

I was pleased to see you’re in love with micro-loans now. Me too! It’s been a few years since I got into microfinance as a truly powerful tool to empower women and reduce poverty. My journey has taken me many places; I’ve met with women whose grace is breathtaking; and I now work at a micro-loan non-profit that works with entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a Bay Area native, I’m excited to see this powerful tool transform lives here in my own backyard, as it does for so many women the world over. We’re Kiva’s field partner in SF. Check us out:

Looking forward to your next blog post.

Heidi Greider May 1, 2010, 6:59 PM

Thanks for this post, Amy. I’ve been to Burundi and am helping a group of women with an association. I needed a reminder about that story from Half the Sky to send to my supporters and your post was just right.

PS I am a fan of your work - especially Judging Amy :o)

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Donnell Brouillard December 16, 2010, 7:07 PM

I’d be inclined to acquiesce with you on this. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

Joon January 4, 2011, 7:35 AM

I too am impressed with the idea and execution of helping others through micro-loans. It’s encouraging to see women with authority, such as yourself, offering to encourage hope, intelligence, and outreach opportunities for change.


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