INSPIRED TO THINK GLOBALLY – Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Every once in a while I come across a book that makes a real impression on me and I want to share it with all women I know. Two of my favorites that come to mind are Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder, and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I consider both books must reads for everyone! The last book that had that effect on me was given to me by one of my sons. He was starting his freshman year of college and his required summer reading was Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. He read it and passed it along to me, knowing that its topic of women’s health would be of interest to me. I was immediately engrossed and couldn’t put it down until I finished.

The title is based on the Chinese Proverb that “Women hold up half the sky.” While at times a very sad book, I found the women in it absolutely amazing and inspirational.  I was struck by the dire straits that most women of the world live in. So much that we American women take for granted~ plumbing and sanitation, basic maternity care, the ability to earn a living~ is not an option for a vast majority of women in other countries. It was heartbreaking to read about Ethiopian women with incontinence caused by poor or lack of quality obstetrical care. Something that is easily fixed here in the United States can cause a woman to be homeless and shunned in Africa. Equally disturbing was the story of a young Cambodian girl sold into the sex slavery trade. It is incomprehensible to me that anyone could exploit a child in that way, and yet it happens all the time. Both women survived their ordeals. One became a surgeon and the other supports her family with a retail business. Reading their stories made me think I could do anything I set my mind to!

I was equally amazed by the women who set out to solve all these problems. One African woman, Edna Adan, who was the victim of genital cutting, grew up to work for the World Health Organization and then started her own maternity hospital in Somaliland with her retirement savings. At the Addis Abada Fistula Hospital, a saintly gynecologist, Catherine Hamlin, solves the incontinence problems of inferior maternity care, allowing close to 90% of these women to return to fully functioning lives. Many other amazing people are hard at work in family planning, the education of young women, and microcredit. The authors show us that “the key to economicprogress lies in unleashing women’s potential. Throughout much of the word, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prosperedprecisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it is also the best strategy for fighting poverty.” (Kristof and WuDunn)

Amazingly, I know someone here in Rhode Island who is making a difference daily in the maternity care provided to women throughout the world. Meg Wirth, a Providence mother of two, set out to find a way to change the grim statistic that in the 21st century developing world, pregnancy remains a leading cause of deathamong women of childbearing age. She founded Maternova, the first global marketplace for ideas and technologies that save mothers and newborns during childbirth. Maternova’s mission is to become the online media hub connecting millions of people who work on maternal/newborn health around the world and accelerate progress. They make it easy for doctors, nurses and midwives to track innovation and to buy technologies and kits to use overseas. And they are successful! Their obstetrical kits are used all over the world and help to safely deliver babies while protecting the health of their mothers.

One of my friends was jokingly lamenting the other day that she had not accomplished much, as she had stayed home to raise her sons, rather than putting her Boston College Masters degree to good use. Her mother reminded her that when you educate a mother, you educate a whole family. What a profound statement! That sentiment is reiterated in Three Cups of Tea. I see that daily in my work. We are all doing what we can, when we can. When we are home with our children, I truly believe there is nothing more important. But someday, when that phase is over, who knows what other amazing things we will accomplish…..