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Reads that express issues involving social justice

By Staff | Oct 22, 2009

Two of the three books I am reviewing this month are both well written explorations of important and related social issues, but they also have a connection to Sanibel. In “Half the Sky” the authors cite Jane Roberts of 34 Million Friends.org as a modern day hero, fighting for women’s global health. Roberts will be speaking on Sanibel on Jan. 21 at BIG ARTS. The second book, “Slave Hunter” is co-authored by Christine Buckley who will be featured at the Writers Workshop and at a book talk at Icabod’s restaurant in Fort Myers.

“Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn , published by Alfred Knopf is a must read for all women and anyone who loves a woman. Kristof and WuDunn have years of experience reporting on the plight of women in the world. After all that they’ve seen they are presenting some actual solutions. The first solution is education for girls and they give multiple examples of what happens when a woman gets educated. There is an old African proverb that says something like, “When you educate a girl, you educate a family. When you educate a boy, you educate a man.” When that educated girl then organizes other women and takes on a problem in her community, she changes her world and when enough women do the same, they change the whole world.

The authors state that in the 19th century, the moral challenge was the abolition of slavery, in the 20th, the eradication of totalitarianism and in the 21st century, it is gender inequality and its effects on women and girls. Gender inequality results in two million girls going missing every years either because they are killed, kidnapped or allowed to die from neglect or a conscious choice not to spend the money needed for basic medical care.

The book is organized around different issues and their research shows the impact of the problem on the economy, war, even global warming. This is followed by actual cases of women who have suffered gross mistreatment and then with reports on specific solutions often created by a recovering victim herself. Some of the women have suffered from sex trafficking, rape, genital mutilation, rape, acid burning, poor health care leading to fistulas, HIV infection and infertility and other crimes and have organized to help other victims or to support their own families.

Most of the case studies are of women in developing countries, but there are also stories of women and girls, men and boys in the US who have encountered a wrong and figured out a way to fight it. One of those organizations is 34 Million Friends.org which set out to replace the 34 million dollars promised by the US to the UN Population Fund which was then rescinded in 2001. Two women, Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, were so incensed when they read about this that they independently came up with the idea to raise that money one dollar at a time. They have since raised over $4 million dollars and when the funding was reinstated early this year, they decided to continue raising money to help women and girls protect their reproductive health. The authors point out that when women get adequate medical care in developing countries, the abortion rate goes down by 40 percent. They conclude their book with some ideas of action you can take now which will help women and girls around the world.

I am adding another book, “The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights” by Irene Kahn, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, published by WW Norton to accompany the first book. The author of this book makes the argument that until the world’s poor have access to social and legal rights, we will never solve the problem of poverty in our world. She looks at poverty as a problem for both the developing and developed countries as poverty leads to unrest and its tentacles and consequences reach all of us. The author uses stories of poor people struggling to better their economic condition and the vicious cycle they find themselves in, but she also tells of success stories and organizations which are helping to write those stories. The book is filled with beautifully photographed images which add to the reader’s understanding as well as statistical analysis to back up her statements.

“The Slave Hunter” by Aaron Cohen and Christine Buckley, published by Simon and Schuster is a very different book. Like Kristoff and WuDunn and Kahn, both authors have spent a lot of time on the ground fighting oppression against women, specifically in sex trafficking. Aaron Cohen might be known to you (or your children) as part of Jane’s Addiction a late 1980’s-1990’s band and one of the organizers of Lollapalooza, a musical festival. He attended the Air Force Academy and played water polo and then got involved heavily in the world of sex, drugs and rock and roll. When his mother got sick, he left that scene and started his master’s degree at Vanguard University, taking classes in Middle Eastern Studies, Hebrew and the Bible. In 2000, he came up with the idea of celebrating a Jubilee Year, creating peace through music, advocating the debt to third world and freeing the slaves. That led to the work that he continues today, partnering with government agencies, law enforcement and non-profits in third world countries. He works undercover finding brothels and prostitution dens and getting evidence so the slaves can be freed and traffickers can be arrested. His life is a strange journey and his personality filled with contradictions, but obviously he is brilliant, committed and fearless and his love of his family is a strength throughout. Christine Buckley has done remarkable work in Vietnam and other countries working with victims of sex trafficking herself and her writing guides us through the strange twists of Cohen’s life. She will be on Sanibel for the Writer’s Conference and will conduct a book talk as part of the outreach of the Lee County Human Trafficking Task Force and FGCU on Nov. 9 at 5:30 p.m. at Icabod’s Restaurant in Fort Myers.

If you are looking for books to give for the holidays which will stir emotions and perhaps set your children or grandchildren on a path to understanding the privileges and responsibilities they have, these three books fit the bill.