A Response to the PBS Documentary “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity”

After authoring the book, Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn created the PBS documentary “Half the Sky.” This documentary featured American actresses as they traveled to India, Somaliland, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Kenya. The segments of the documentary showcased the ways that women in these countries created organizations to counter the oppression of women. The themes addressed in the documentary include rape, abuse, prostitution, human trafficking, female genital cutting, education, economic independence, and healthcare access.  Between these segments the film featured commentary from European and American women leaders encouraging support for women in leadership world-wide, particularly in the developing world.

On the surface, the documentary seems to be sending the right message, support women to end oppression and poverty. However, it also puts forth an implicit notion of western superiority. The commentary from the visiting actresses and women leaders presents a strict dichotomy between right and wrong. Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, exemplifies this when she says that women are subjugated by “a wrong use of religion.” By claiming that certain uses of religion are wrong, Robinson asserts that morality is some how universal and privileges western morals over non-western morals. One could argue that religion is sometimes employed in dangerous ways; however, implying that a religious practice is simply wrong is judgmental and generally not conducive to progress. In addition, the documentary only featured poor women in the developing world. Unfortunately, there are many poor women in developed nations that face similar challenges, especially with regard to access to education, rape, economic independence, and healthcare.  By excluding these women’s stories, this documentary derogates the developing world while perpetuating a false sense of perfection, liberty, and security in the developed world.

Link to Film:

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/half-the-sky/film/

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