I have a whole stack of books which motivated me to dedicate my life to my biggest passion – fighting to end gender-based violence. Here are my top 3 recommendations:
1. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Be taken on an odyssey through Africa and Asia, meeting some extraordinary women along the way, in this fascinating book by two Pulitzer prize-winning authors. They portray the lives of different women – survivors of forced prostitution, gang rape, acid attacks – and educate us about the abuse faced by many women around the world.
From the Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery, to the Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth, the reader is shown not just these horrendous experiences, but also a glimmer of hope. The Cambodian girl eventually escapes from the brothel and, with the assistance of an aid group, builds a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman has her injuries repaired and in time becomes a surgeon. The main message of this book is that the key to economic progress lies in freeing women’s potential. After all, “women hold up half the sky”!
2. From Outrage to Courage by Anne Firth Murray
This book is a bible in the world of women’s rights. In fact, it’s such a detailed study of women’s health in poor countries, that it became the blueprint for a course in international women’s health at Stanford University – which the author now teaches. The book features shocking but true stories about unequal access to nutrition and health care, demographic imbalances and the culture of son-preference, early childbirth and maternal death, all types of gender-based violence, the effects of war and refugee status on women, and the feminization of ageing.
What makes this book unique is that it does not simply state grim statistics. At the end of each chapter, the reader is introduced to positive stories of change grouped into countries, and short summaries of the work of NGOs. Anne Murray has travelled to majority of the places she is writing about, and knows her stuff – I once emailed her a question regarding a specific problem in Sri Lanka, and she replied to me with a list of people who could help!
Anne Firth Murray understands each and every problem down to the grassroots level, and has systematically organised this information into an invaluable textbook of the most urgent female health problems, which women face from birth till death.
3. Share: The Cookbook that Celebrates Our Common Humanity by Women for Women International
This feels like travelling the globe and popping into your head into different people’s kitchens – with a powerful story behind each recipe. Produced by Women for Women International, with recipes donated by many celebrities (such as Annie Lennox and Paul McCartney), the book also gives information on women’s lives in many war-affected countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Kosovo.
It is such a gentle but powerful tool to bring the story of a sister from another part of our planet close to our hearts. “Like so many good things, this book began at a kitchen table” say the editors, and by reading we feel ourselves sharing a table with many women, and it is an empowering connection.
It doesn’t matter what kind of book makes your heart beat faster and encourages you to stand up for women, the important thing is that you do stand up.