Congratulations to our winners!

Welcome to GW and your first day of classes.  I hope everyone enjoyed Freshman Convocation and Fresh on the Yard yesterday.

Since the class of 2014 now finds itself in the same place at the same time, this will be the last post for this Half the Sky blog.  I hope you’ll continue to talk amongst yourselves about the book, talk to your GPS guides and participate in the First Chapter activities as they happen.

Big congratulations to the winners of the First Chapter response contest who were announced yesterday at Convocation.  Their names are posted below:

Tigan Woolson
Madeleine Livingston
Amanda Dudley
Kirstie Espiritu
Mary Elizabeth Hall
Monica Mehta
Ricca Prasad
Richard Thurston
Catherine Munkittrick
Ethan Bursofsky
Jacob Itzkowitz
Marshall Kosloff
Richard Hinman
Rio Hart
Kristen Saldarini
Alon Farahan
Benjamin Krimmel
Poonam Sharma
Prayaksha Moktan
Samantha Herman
Amber Johnson
Khadija Lalani
Aishat Mustapha

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Guest Blogger: Monica Mehta

Today we have a post from incoming freshman, Monica Mehta.  If you would like to be our next guest blogger just send an email to or leave a comment.

When I applied for admission to George Washington University’s BA/MD program, I envisioned myself learning medical ethics and anthropology, and spending summers dedicating my time to working with research groups like Dr. Peter Hotez’s team. When I thought of study abroad, I imagined applying my numerous years of Spanish language classes to study in Madrid or Barcelona. Throughout high school, I believed I was an engaged citizen: organizing library outreach programs, volunteering for health fairs, holding an officer position in my student government. But after reading Half the Sky, I could regain neither my former sense of accomplishment nor my former aspirations, which began to feel commonplace.

One of the unique aspects of Half the Sky is its focus on individual contributions. Besides CARE, and a few other organizations, the majority of aid detailed after each chapter in the novel is from an individual or small group of people who learned about the horrors of women’s oppression and decidedly took action. Reading about Frank Grijalva, who began an initiative to sponsor a school in Cambodia from Seattle, or Edna Adan, who left her wealthy lifestyle working for the WHO to develop a maternity hospital in Somaliland, left me feeling empty. I had traveled to India three times, but not once had I volunteered for an organization like Apne Aap. I had the ability to gather a group of students to raise money to sponsor a school, but the idea had not even crossed my mind. Half the Sky reiterates the importance of education for women, and yet, I was the one who was ignorant. Like so many of my peers, I was powerless in the fight against women’s oppression, simple because I had never faced the painful details.

As I finished reading the last few pages, my entire vision for my seven years at GW shifted slightly. I realized how much more I could learn from working at a hospital like HEAL Africa, spending a summer abroad in Congo. Indeed, medical ethics and anthropology can be learned through specific cases in life-changing ways on the field. After discussing my thoughts with my parents, I was able to grasp the amount of power I held, and how much greater an impact I could make in the lives of women. It was about time I, like many of the individuals described in Half the Sky, took a leap into the fight against women’s oppression.

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Guest Blogger: Hannah Penfield

Today we have a post from incoming freshman, Hannah Penfield.  Hannah is from Beaverton, Oregon and intends to major in Journalism, with a minor in Sociology.  If you would like to be our next guest blogger just send an email to or leave a comment.

Half the Sky is my new favorite book. It may seem strange that an 18-year-old girl’s favorite book is about the oppression of women and not dreamy, sparkly vampires. But I believe it is my duty in life to acquire as much knowledge as I can about the indignities and injustices people face today and share that knowledge with the world. I hope to be able to use my writing to help women in the same way that Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have in this book.

However, even though I had a significant amount of knowledge on the subject of gender inequality before reading this book, I was still shocked to read the horrific accounts of girls, younger than I am, living in cages like animals, dying from the inevitable scourge of HIV/AIDS, and living with the humiliation of having urine and feces run down their legs uncontrollably. In the Western world, it seems so foreign that it’s hard to comprehend. But, in places like India where a few rupees will buy time with a prostitute, a few extra give the right to have sex with a young girl without a condom, and fistulas are not the worst thing that can happen in childbirth — horrors like these happen every day.

I was also shocked to see the prices of the two girls, Srey Neth and Srey Momm. Kristof purchased them for $150 and $203, respectively. Together, they were worth less than the computer I am typing this on. How is it possible that in 2010 the worth of two people is less than a laptop computer? Why are women, the vessels of future generations, treated as though they are of no use or importance?

Yet each of us are responsible. We may be shocked and appalled by the horrors these women face, but none of us can avoid blame. Fifteen dollars to buy the book about dreamy, sparkly vampires could instead be used as a microloan to help a woman start a business. Any of us who study abroad could forgo the obvious choices of London or Paris and spend time in the Congo, Pakistan, or Cambodia instead.

Reading this book and being appalled at the horrific treatment of women is not enough. It is not enough to be outraged but ultimately do nothing. Each of us, the members of the George Washington University Class of 2014, has more power, money, and resources to do something today than many of the women we read about will have in an entire lifetime. Isn’t it our responsibility to help?

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Guest Blogger: Matt Trainum

Today we have a post from Matt Trainum, Director of the Guide to Personal Success Program here at GW. Matt was born in rural Virginia.  He graduated with a degree in History from James Madison University and a degree in educational Administration from Texas A&M.  He lived in North Carolina prior to coming to GW where he is currently working on a doctorate in Human and Organizational Learning.  He enjoys an intelligent conversation on virtually any topic.

As we get close to Friday’s deadline to submit entries in the First Chapter Contest I wanted to take a moment and write a note.  You may remember me from closing session at CI where I encouraged you to take advantage of “My GPS Guide.”  Since then I too have been going through Half the Sky, and experiencing a mix of reactions.  The text was so jarring that half the time I could hardly get through more than a few pages at a time.  But perseverance is of course one of the greatest of human traits and discovery often takes a bit of perseverance.

As I reflect about this book I am reminded of a first anniversary that passed while we were all together during Colonial Inauguration (CI).  Take a moment and remember what was in the news one summer ago. At that time, last June, there were protesters in the streets of Iran.  At one point an estimated 100,000 people gathered in candlelit protest, upset offer possible election fraud and seeking a greater role in how their country is run.  The death on camera of a young woman became a central story of the event.  Some in the media called it the Twitter Revolution.  Yet there was no revolution.  The authorities stopped this expression of the people.

We had a good time at CI and hopefully a positive summer and I’m not saying this to make anyone feel guilty. My point at the moment is not even about feeling privileged, though recognizing our privilege is not a bad thing.  My point is the Iranian authorities know something about you.  Something very simple, yet very real.  You are powerful.  Individually powerful, but collectively far more so.  And I’m not sure you are reminded enough of that.

Our hope for each of you is that you channel that power while you are here with us at GW.  Every member of the GW Community- the faculty, the staff, your fellow students, and yes your GPS guides- are here to help you find that power.  Take advantage of us and begin your own revolution.

Posted in Men and the Women's Movement, What you can do | Leave a comment

Not Earth shattering, but important to you

I’m on vacation for another few days and I’ve found it difficult to enjoy the beach while also writing about the oppression of women throughout the world, so I’ve decided to take a break – at least for today.

Today, I bring you vital information: How to Find Cheaper College Textbooks.  It’s no joke!  Textbooks are expensive and this is article offers multiple options to obtain textbooks at a bargain price.  And don’t forget to check out the comments, which also have excellent suggestions.

It may be a little more work than going to the bookstore, but you can save lots of money by buying books elsewhere…money you can then donate to building a school in Cambodia.  (There, see I made it relate.)

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A Reminder

This is your first chance for GW glory, so don't miss out! Start your thinking now and start your writing soon.

I know you are busy enjoying your last few weeks of freedom, fun and boardwalk fries, but let me remind you that you’ve got work to do.  No, not just picking out your new bed-in-a-bag and packing up the car, I mean writing your essay to send to the Dean of Freshmen!

To refresh your memory, the Dean of Freshmen asked you to send your reactions to Half the Sky to her by Friday, August 20th.  The best written and most interesting essays will gain glory, publication and dinner (in that order).  The winners will be announced at Freshman Convocation,  published in a special anthology of freshman writing and invited to dinner with the Dean and other special guests.

If you wondering what a winning essay looks like, check out last year’s freshman reading program blog.   All of last year’s winners are posted there with their essays about Hot, Flat and Crowded.

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Guest Blogger: Sarah Kranau

Today we have a post from incoming freshman, Sarah Kranau.  Sarah is from Tulsa, Oklahoma and intends to major in Journalism at the School of Media and Public Affairs.  If you would like to be our next guest blogger just send an email to or leave a comment.

As soon as I heard the book choice for the GW First Chapter program on the last day of Colonial Inauguration, I knew I had picked the right school. I had actually already read the book once and was excited to revisit it, hopefully catching any details I may have missed during my first reading. I discovered the book while researching for a chapel presentation I had volunteered to create and present to my high school on the topic of global women’s rights today. I had taken an English course titled “Women’s Lives and Literature” the first semester of my senior year and had instantly latched on to the fight against gender oppression in the world today. I had never really known what to say when asked what issues I felt strongly about, but suddenly it seemed I had found my cause in helping other women. I hope that my chapel presentation (based on much of the information in this book) helped my student body to realize the importance of this cause and why it simply cannot be ignored. At the close of the school year I received the Senior Religion Award for my chapel presentation, hopefully a sign that I made an impact on those around me with my message.

There are so many topics to discuss in this book, I honestly don’t know where to begin. If I had to choose one main theme to discuss, I would have to select the overwhelming sense of awe and respect I have for these women. In reading their stories, I can’t help but place myself in their situation and compare it to my own life. What I continually found myself realizing was just how strong these women are, and how quite honestly I could never be strong enough to survive such horrible suffering and abuse. It’s a truly humbling experience to read about any of the women in the book, but the one that always comes to my mind first is the story of Mahabouba and her incredible will to live despite all odds.

Mahabouba was beaten constantly as the second wife of a man far older than her when she was barely a teenager. She soon became pregnant and suffered an obstructed labor, then a resulting fistula. She was literally left alone to rot and be eaten alive by hyenas. After fending them off with only a stick, she crawled and dragged herself on a day long journey to a missionary who at last offered her the help she needed so desperately. Mahabouba saved herself from her impossibly doomed situation, all by the age of fourteen. It sounds almost too horrible to imagine, and yet it’s real. I know that I would have given up long before Mahabouba, and I’m sure that most women would realize the same in trying to visualize themselves in her shoes. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine the lives of women like her, who struggle daily just to stay alive. It certainly puts some perspective in my own life when I feel depressed over a bad day due to an argument with a friend or a trip to the mall that left me feeling less than satisfied.

While the sheer reality of the horror these women endure is a powerful and moving piece of this book, another key part is the simple logic put forth that really makes the reader stop and think. The quotation from Asha-Rose Migiro used as the opening of Chapter Seven, which focuses on maternal mortality, makes an obvious but crucial statement, “Would the world stand by if it were men who were dying just for completing their reproductive functions?” (WuDunn 109).

This simple point really puts in perspective how utterly ridiculous and absolutely wrong it is to allow women to die under the excuse of childbirth. Just as men don’t die due to their reproductive contribution, neither should women. Yes, we carry the far more difficult part of the process (literally), but that is absolutely not an excuse to allow us to die while doing so. When examining this statement, it’s impossible to avoid the absurdity of the truth; women are dying when we have every possible way to stop it.

Another seemingly obvious but very important point put forth in this book is the idea suggested in the title, that women really do “hold up half the sky.” Stepping aside from the subject of women’s oppression and human rights for a moment allows us to see the issue instead as the key economic issue in the world today. It shows how literally absurd it is that HALF of the world’s resources are being wasted and that if we harnessed this power, we could bring the poorest countries of the world into the twenty first century. Even those who aren’t moved by the topic of human rights can surely be motivated when approaching the situation from the view of economic gain. Just think how the world would react if instead of using the world’s food supply, we simply let half of it rot away. It’s the same principle here, and yes, it’s ridiculous. Harnessing the power women can have in the world should be the utmost goal of every government looking to improve their standing in the world today, whether or not they are concerned with women’s empowerment.

In reading this book, it is hard not to become somewhat overwhelmed by staggering statistics, amazingly triumphant stories, and massive organizations that have met with great success in helping hundreds of women at a time… I certainly did, and I think it’s because of this reason that more individuals do not jump into action upon discovering the truth about women’s oppression. The word is out, but the call to action is still unanswered; I would guess because it appears to be an impossible task. How can one person, or even multiple people, save the millions of women who are suffering and oppressed? Well honestly the simply answer is one person can’t. But one person CAN help one other person. And that person can then in turn help another. And if everyone helps just one person, then we begin to see the greater impact of our actions. And if it seems like helping one person will not change a darn thing, I offer to them one of the quotations used in the book:

“A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water. ‘What are you doing, son?’ the man asks. ‘You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.’ The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. ‘It sure made a difference to that one,’ he said.”
-Naka Nathaniel (WuDunn 45)

Just as the boy’s help made a difference for that one starfish, our help makes a difference to the woman who receives it, regardless of whether we help one woman or a hundred. In reminding those around us that no amount of help is too insignificant, we can all work together to give support to the fight against women’s oppression worldwide.

Having discovered this book so close to the end of my high school career, I wasn’t able to take my work for the cause any further than my chapel presentation in my school community before graduation. Now that I’m beginning at GW, I would love to become involved in creating ways to raise awareness and support for this cause in the GW community. I’m hoping that others in the freshmen class will be as moved by this reading selection as I was and feel the same way. Thank you for picking such a wonderful book.

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The End of Men?

Henry Kissinger famously said, “Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.”  I tend to believe him, but apparently Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic disagrees.  In complete contrast to Half the Sky, she has written an article called The End of Men.

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences

Of course this is ludicrous – men aren’t going anywhere soon, but I’m interested to know how reading Half the Sky and/or articles like this make men feel.  Do you feel uncomfortable? Like you are portrayed as the villain in the book?  Angry with your fellow men?

Men, please leave your comments below and let your feelings be known!

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Our Problem Too

MSNBC has a terrible reminder for us that human trafficking is happening not just in far-away lands, but right here under our own noses.

Pimps force Mexican women into prostitution in U.S. tells of Tenancingo, Mexico, a poor town where an estimated 3000 of the 10,000 inhabitants are directly involved in human trafficking to U.S. cities.

The town provided the perfect petri dish for forced prostitution. A heavily Indian area, it combines long-standing traditions of forced marriage or “bride kidnapping,” with machismo, grinding poverty and an early wave of industrialization in the 1890s that later went bust, leaving a displaced population that would roam, looking for elusive work.

You can read more in this article which seems to illustrate much of what is argued in Half the Sky, but what I find most shocking is how it is being perpetuated through the next generation:

Dilcya Garcia, a Mexico City prosecutor who did anti-trafficking work in Tenancingo, confirms that many boys in the town aspire to be pimps.

“If you ask some boys, and we have done this, ‘Hey what do you want to be when you grow up?’ They reply: ‘I want to have a lot of sisters and a lot of daughters to make lots of money.'”

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Guest Blogger: Drew Petrushka

Today we have a post from incoming freshman, Drew Petrushka.  Drew is from Johnstown, OH (close to Columbus) and intends to major in International Affairs with a plan to concentrate in Asian Studies at the Elliot School.  If you would like to be our next guest blogger just send an email to or leave a comment.

Half The Sky is an excellent read for many reasons. Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have constructed a work that is inspirational on many levels, focusing on the successes of individuals and organizations alike in the face of poverty and sexual inequality abroad. It examines the problem of sexual inequality in the context of the cultures in which it is most apparent, showing that it often stems from ancient tradition which remains largely unquestioned by the men or women which inhabit these societies. Finally, it advocates grassroots education for women, education that enables them to contribute to their societies and, ultimately, elevate these societies. Such education is also one of the best channels through which to end the unjust traditions of sexual inequality which pervade these cultures. Young women and men who are educated in schools similar to the ones described in Half The Sky can interact as equals and mature without acquiring the traditional beliefs that only men are the leaders of society and are allowed to abuse their wives and other women. In addition, members of both sexes can be educated on the dangers of unprotected sexual activity, as noted on page 141. Such education leads to greater condom use, and in turn to fewer pregnancies and lower rates of HIV and AIDS transmission. Establishing educational opportunities for women in these societies is far more effective than changing the laws of these societies–sexist sentiments become ingrained in the members of these societies as they mature, and therefore a personal approach is needed if such a patten is to be avoided in the future.

While Half The Sky nobly aims to rectify gender inequality and is an inspirational read, it was also quite refreshing for me, a male Catholic. Rather than assign all of the blame for gender inequality on men and harp on the counterproductive effects of conservative and religious opposition to birth control with regards to sexually transmitted infections which afflict women, Half The Sky shows that both men and women (though more often men) are to blame for forced prostitution, honor rapes and killings, genital cutting, and social inequality. It also highlights many successful religious efforts in societies where gender inequality is most atrocious, along with secular movements to empower women in these societies. It concludes by encouraging all members of its audience–male, female, religious or not–to join the cause of empowering women worldwide, for the betterment of these women, their families, communities, and societies–and ultimately our world.

Needless to say, I highly recommend that each of my classmates, as well as anyone privileged enough to live in a society where men and women enjoy the same opportunity, to read Half The Sky and to become part of the movement to end gender inequality.

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