Kristof and Wudunn: Half the Sky – How to Change the World

This is a set of notes from Kristof and Wudunn’s work on international development from a female perspective. Stories are more effective than statistics, so I’d recommend reading the full book for its powerful stories. Taken from Kristof and Wudunn: Half the Sky – How to Change the World (2013 Virago print of 2009 publication).

Female infanticide kills at least 2 million girls per year.

“Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest return investment available in the developing world.”

Major General Patrick Cammaert (former UN force commander) on use of rape in war: “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”

Numbers and statistics are much less compelling than stories in motivating people to act.
e.g. it’s more effective to ask for money to help one named girl than it is to ask for money to help 21 million people. And even mentioning the context alongside the named girl makes people less likely to give.
e.g. in another study, people gave twice as much to save one child from cancer than to save eight.

We need to be empirical in our approach, and not defined by conservative/liberal ideology. The best AIDs prevention strategy in one study was neither abstinence-only education nor condom distribution, but education on the dangers of sugar daddies.

The Oportunidades program of financial incentives for education/public health outcomes achieves strong results, increasing school attendance by 10% for boys and 20% for girls. Children grow 1cm taller per year than those in the control group. The scheme encourages poor families to invest in their children, helping to break down the generational transmission of poverty.

Kiva is a microfinance organisation, allowing donors/financiers to loan to organisations vetted by local on-the-ground microfinance organisations.

Male-controlled family budgets in the poorest families in the world spend about ten times more on alcohol, prostitutes, sweets, drinks and feasting than on their children’s education.
Putting money into women’s hands improves children’s experience, with studies in Ivory coast, South Africa and Indonesia showing an increased spend on nutrition, medicine and housing.

After a 1993 Indian stipulation that 1/3 of village chiefs had to be women, bribery was reduced and water infrastructure improved, but satisfaction in the leadership fell. However, once a village had had a female leader, this bias against women chiefs disappeared.

The authors tackle the question of whether cultures can change, and the issue of cultural imperialism:
“We sometimes hear people voice doubts about opposition to sex trafficking, genital cutting, or honor killings because of their supposed inevitability. What can our good intentions achieve against thousands of years of tradition?
“One response is China. A century ago, China was arguably the worst place in the world to be born female. Foot-binding, child marriage, concubinage, and female infanticide were embedded in traditional Chinese culture. Rural Chinese girls in the early twentieth century sometimes didn’t even get real names, just the equivalent of ‘No. 2 sister’ or ‘No. 4 sister.’ Or, perhaps even less dignified, girls might be named Laidi or Yindi or Zhaodi, all variations of ‘Bring a younger brother’. Girls were rarely educated, often sold, and vast numbers ended up in the brothels of Shanghai.
“So was it cultural imperialism for Westerners to criticize foot-biding and female infanticide? Perhaps. But it was also the right thing to do. If we believe firmly in certain values, such as the equality of all human beings regardless of color or gender, then we should not be afraid to stand up for them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, torture, foot-binding, honor killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths or cultures. One lesson of China is that we need not accept that discrimination is an intractable element of any society.”

Cultural change has to be driven locally. It cannot be imposed: e.g. 1970s and 1980 efforts against FGM, or efforts to empower Afghan women.
The exception is public health measures that depend on research, materials and knowledge that don’t exist at grassroots.

“the sex slave trade in the twenty-first century… is bigger than the transatlantic slave trade was in the nineteenth.”

Happiness levels seem to be largely innate, and not greatly affected by external forces. But feeling connected to something larger can help us feel better.

Some name-checked organisations I wanted to investigate further: Camfed, Plan, Women for Women international, Tostan.

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