Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. If we are going to see real development in the world then our best investment is women.”

Desmond Tutu

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Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a multi-part documentary series based on the bestselling book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, aired on PBS October 1st & 2nd, 2012, internationally in 2013.

The series follows Kristof and celebrity activists America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde as they travel throughout the developing world to introduce women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable—and fighting bravely to change them. With an introduction by George Clooney and incisive analysis led by WuDunn and a host of other experts including Hillary Clinton, Desmond Tutu, Madeleine Albright and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the series features intimate, dramatic and immediate stories of struggle that reflect viable and sustainable options for empowerment and offer an actionable blueprint for transformation.



Hillary Clinton: How we treat women and girls is absolutely essential to who we are as a people.

Ruth J. Simmons: The issue of gender equality globally must be addressed if the problems that we share across the world are to be solved.

Dr. Helene Gayle: It’s the way that we can bring greater peace and balance in this world.

Gloria Steinhem: We’re at the point of freedom and that means two things. One is it’s maximum danger and the other is we’re not going to stop.

Mary Robinson: What Nick and Sheryl have been able to do is tell very compelling stories of people that they empathize with and understand in their context.

Eva Mendes: Well I got an email. I remember the subject being “Sierra Leone” and I opened that one because I was like, “Well, that’s interesting, what’s that all about?” And then it was the invitation to come on board and I immediately said yes. I love what Nick and Sheryl say in the book that women are not the problem — they’re the solution.

Gabrielle Union: When I started reading what Half the Sky is about and what the message is and the story. “You are so beautiful and so smart. I know you’ll be very successful.” You can’t say no.

Nicholas Kristof: I shouldn’t ask but can I ask, “Did your husband ever hit you?”

Olivia Wilde: Nick and Sheryl kind of revolutionized the way people talk about aid and made people very fired up and inspired and certainly made me want to get out there and be a part of the movement.

Nicholas Kristof: So you were a commercial sex worker from when to when?

Jane Ngoibi: From 94 to 98.

Olivia Wilde: I’m just curious how much you were paid for that work.

Jane Ngoibi: 50 shillings.

Sheryl WuDunn: It’s a tough topic. The challenge that women and girls face around the world is not an easy topic to talk about but we really think it is the moral challenge of the century.

Carolyn Miles: Nick and Sheryl are out there talking about this issue. And not just talking about it kind of theoretically but they have all these stories about actual girls and women that are going through some of these struggles. That really brings it to life for a much wider audience.

Nicholas Kristof: Is that red door, is that a brothel you think? Do you have a supply of condoms here?

As long as the victims are poor, rural, female, illiterate, they don’t have voice.

Diane Lane: To be physically present in a place is irreplaceable. Nicholas is right — you have to show up.

Edna Adan: This is like a war map, a strategic map. Where do we need someone to fight the enemy — disease, death.

Diane Lane: Celebrities can bring these issues into the limelight. That’s just a no-brainer, that’s your job, to shine a little light on people that are actually doing the hard lifting.

Meg Ryan: You can’t come up with something more beautiful than a young, innocent girl. And to inflict that experience on that human being is unspeakably cruel.

Somaly Mam: I want to empower survivors to stand up and say no if they want to say no.

Amie Kandeh: We shouldn’t allow the violence that has been inflicted on women to continue. It must stop, because it can stop, and they need to be part of the solution.

America Ferrera: Sometimes the problem feels so big that changing one life doesn’t feel like enough. But it is.

Urmi Basu: So every person, every corner of this world, needs to raise a voice and say this has to stop.

Sheryl WuDunn: This is not rocket science. This is not a problem that is unsolvable that we have to invent something new. It just takes political will.

Rebecca Lolosoli: The rights we want. We want to choose our husband. We want to own the land. We want to go to school. We don’t want to be cut anymore. We want also to make decisions. We want to participate in politics, to be leaders. We want to be equal.

Desmond Tutu: The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. If we are going to see real development in the world then our best investment is women.

3 thoughts on “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

  1. Admiring the work of Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof. I’m currently running a social project centred around gender inequality in third world nations, and I have been hearing alternate perspectives that bring up the oppression of men in these nations as a forgotten truth.
    Would love to connect with you! Please check out my page & campaign, Heart In Hand

  2. On other initiatives as well – as part of a holistic, community-focused approach, UN Women is, among other things, supporting the construction of eight Women’s Empowerment Centres. It is also partnering with Skills for South Sudan to provide adult functional literacy programmes in these districts.

    See for yourself the impact these efforts are already having in two communities of the Western Equatoria state – check out my blog! :) http://heartinhandproject.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-the-un-women-response-to-gender-alerts/

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