The documentary adaptation of Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunne’s book “Half the Sky” is a captivating portrayal of women’s oppression in the developing world. The documentary compiles a series of anecdotes telling the truly horrifying experiences of impoverished young girls and women. It exposes the sex slavery and human trafficking industries in areas such as Sierra Lione, Cambodia and India. I could barely keep it together during our viewing in class and still get emotional thinking of the women whose stories were revealed.
They tell how these women are beaten and raped if they try to resist the men who have bought them and how many contract AIDS from forced sex work without protection. They tell how in some cultures it’s accepted practice for a man to rape the woman he wants to marry to force her to submit to him. What invoked my feeling of utter hopelessness was the complete lack of investigation by the authorities. When perpetrators are caught, they are let go and even worse still, some complaints are not investigated at all.
The bare exposure of the sex slavery industry in this documentary lead me to reflect on my own experience as a young volunteer with the Children of Nyumbani Trust Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya. I worked in an orphanage with children whose Mothers had fallen victim of rural Africa’s torturous sex-trade. The kids in the orphanage were all HIV positive and were of high risk of contracting AIDS in their late teens. The youngest child I cared for was a two-year old girl called Mia.
It is extremely difficult to come to terms with women’s oppression in the developing world when you are met with the innocent, bright-eyed children whose lives are forever tarnished as result. This vile rape culture haunts their past and desolates their future. It is sickening to think that such beauty and purity can come from such evil, malicious intent.
One of the most shocking parts of Half the Sky is its depiction of the female genital mutilation (FGM) tradition which appears to be a high-earning trade in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. FGM is performed in the mistaken belief that it will benefit the girl in some way for example, as preparation for marriage or to preserve her virginity. This can be contrasted with the laws against FGM in the western world. In the UK, FGM is a serious criminal offence. Anyone who performs FGM can face up to fourteen years in prison and anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from FGM can face up to seven years in prison.
Half the Sky is a harrowing depiction of women’s lives in the developing world. It lays bare the utter powerlessness of the uneducated. It highlights the humiliation and torture these women are forced to endure in silence. While the viewing of this documentary was not a pleasant experience, it has heightened my awareness of the oppression and neglect of these women. It has motivated me to use my position as a citizen of a privileged country to speak the truth and to educate others on what is being hidden in the developing nations. After all, it is geographical luck that I was born in to a society which strives to protect, not to torture.