In the spirit of end of the year “best-of” lists, I have created a list of my top ten favorite books centered on gender issues.  (Warning: These books may not qualify for your average light, happy-go-lucky-read-on-the-beach book.)  However, if you are interested in gender issues and love reading memoirs and historical non-fiction on the subject, then I have created a holiday reading list just for you!

10. Mighty be our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War -(2011) Leymah Gbowee & Carol Mithers


During the Liberian Civil War, Gbowee’s life changed dramatically as she endured the deaths of several friends and relatives.  As a young mother, she realized that women suffer tremendous amounts during periods of conflict; however, she also noticed that women working together could create a powerful voice for peace.  In 2003, Gbowee helped to organize the Liberian Mass Action for Peace and held public protests and sex strikes.  With the Liberian women united, Gbowee helped bring peace to her nation at last.

9. Development with a Body: Sexuality, Human Rights and Development – (2008) Andrea Cornwall, Sonia Correa

dev with body

Cornwall’s book is the densest on the list; however, it offers great insight into contemporary gender challenges. The author uses stories and examples from around the world to explain several mainstream concepts including sexual rights as human rights, gender and sex orders, and changing gender mindsets.

8. Woman at Point Zero – (2008) Nawal El Saadawi


At only 156 pages, Woman at Point Zero packs a powerful punch into a small number of pages. While exploring themes such as arranged marriages, female sexual pleasure and female education, El-Saadawi tells the story of a young Egyptian woman who became a prostitute to survive after running away from a brutal husband.

7.  I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced – (2010) Nujood Ali


Another quick read coming in at fewer than 200 pages, Ali’s memoir tells the story of her early childhood in Yemen where her family struggled to survive on a daily basis. In order to ease the family burden, her father agrees to an arranged marriage for Nujood when she is only six years old.  Her story is not only a story of tragedy, but also of empowerment as Nujood finds the strength within herself to fight for her rights.

6. The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine – (2009) Somaly Mam


Somaly Mam’s memoir serves as both a tragic and empowering tale of her life as a sexual slave in the Cambodian brothels and her amazing quest to save other young girls from similar fates.  This book can be hard to stomach as the details of the sex industry are gruesome and overwhelming.  However, after reading it, you will no doubt feel hopeful because The Somaly Mam Foundation is now one of the most highly respected anti-trafficking organizations in the world.

5. Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain – (2011) Portia de Rossi


A slightly different angle than the rest of the books that made the list, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain is a powerful memoir depicting De Rossi’s struggles with anorexia and bulimia.  Both shocking and well written, De Rossi provides the reader with a glimpse into the mind of a female patient suffering from anorexia as well as her road to recovery.  A must read for anyone interested in women’s issues.

4. The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS – (2009) Elizabeth Pisani


Although calling women “whores” does not exactly scream women’s rights, this book is a great description of the business behind HIV/AIDS. An epidemiologist with years of experience working at major international HIV/AIDS organizations, Pisani’s fresh new perspective explains how major organizations are concentrating on the wrong populations (i.e. women and children).  Instead, Pisani insists that more focus must be put towards prevention for “whores, junkies, and fags.”

3. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media – (1995) Susan J. Douglas


Focusing on mass media’s portrayal of women in the late 20th century, Douglas demonstrates how the media has constantly oppressed women.  Citing examples from television shows including Charlie’s Angels, Charmed and Bewitched, Douglas explains the inevitable effects of mass media on women, culture and politics.  A fun, informative and engaging read, this book is not to be missed.

2. Infidel – (2008) Ayaan Hirsi Ali


A powerful and unforgettable memoir, Hirsi Ali’s book serves as a window into Islamic traditions and beliefs.  In her book, Hirsi Ali describes her previous life growing up in a Muslim society, touching upon beliefs such as arranged marriages, tribal culture, and wearing the hijab.  However, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hirsi Ali denounced Islam, fled to the Netherlands, and began her new life as an advocate for Islamic women’s rights.  To this day, Hirsi Ali remains a serious target for terrorism yet remains actively engaged in the fight for gender equality.

1. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide – (2010) Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn


It really is no surprise that this book made the list.  Recently made into a PBS documentary, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide has become an international movement for gender equality. Covering topics including but not limited to education, sex trafficking, maternal mortality, and clean water, the authors recount personal stories about both female suppression and empowerment from around the world – never failing to support each claim with hard data and statistics. Upon finishing this book, you will be anxious to join the movement to advocate for women’s rights.

There you have it! Now go to your nearest bookstore and/or computer (kindle users) and get reading!

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Photo courtesy of featured image: Nicholas D. Kristof

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for this inspiring list of books! Can’t wait to read the ones I haven’t read yet.
    And the no 1 on the list is just incredible, if you haven’t read Half the Sky yet, it is a must!

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