Friday, March 5, 2010

Half the Sky broadcast for International Women's Day

My mom gave me the book Half the Sky for Christmas this year, and although I hadn’t heard anything about it before I started reading, by the time I got off the plane from LA to Atlanta I was one hundred percent hooked. Even before I had finished, I was already its biggest fan, telling anyone who would listen that they had to read it (which I will still tell you if you ask).

Co-written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky chronicles the most widespread and culturally ingrained practices of violence and neglect that women experience around the globe. It focuses on issues such as sex-trafficking of under-aged girls, the killing of female babies in Asian countries, bride burning in India, the appalling maternal mortality rates due to of a lack of basic healthcare access, and the flat out denial of education to girls in many countries. Kristof and WuDunn’s goal in writing the book was not only to raise awareness about these commonplace tragedies around the globe, but to convince the American public that it is their responsibility to take action, and to get anyone who picks up Half the Sky to begin doing so immediately after finishing the last page.

Although it may be too early to tell if their book can spur the type of mass mobilization that the authors are hoping for, it seems that I was not alone in finding Half the Sky to be more than just a compelling read. Its success within the first few months of the release led Kristof and WuDunn to partner with the organization CARE to organize an event for International Women’s Day and broadcast some of the stories of women told in the book to theaters across America.

So I headed to the movies yesterday with my roommates to attend this one night only event. The set-up was a live concert streamed from the Skirball center at NYU, which included musical performances by artists like India Arie and Diane Birch, as well as several celebrities that took the stage (Marisa Tomei, Maria Bello, Sarah Ferguson) to read excerpts of women’s stories from the book alongside picture images. It also featured a short film portrayal of one of the stories of a girl named Woineshet from Ethiopia. She was the victim of the cultural practice of bride abduction, where a girl is kidnapped and raped by a man who then forces her to marry him afterward to avoid paying a dowry as well as any punishment for the rape. It was the first of several documentaries to be made into a TV series that will tell these women’s stories to an even wider audience.

Like the book, the event tried not only to tell stories but to compel action, even with smallest step – each new speaker asked the audience to text “sky” to 30644 to get involved in Care and support the International Violence Against Women Act. As I sit here and wonder how many people will actually take the event’s message to heart and take real steps to create change, I realize that I, in fact, never got around to sending that text. Which is what I’m about to do right now.

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