This list of books represents my personal journey of discovery, for each of them inspired me in some way to start working with survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). I recommend them for complete beginners in the world of women empowerment.
It was way back in April 2010 that I pressed the “Order” button in my Amazon basket. I bought a book which changed my career path, and gave me a new-found passion. “Desert flower” by Waris Dirie. On the very same day, I attended a training workshop on domestic violence in the BME (black and minority ethnicity) community, and FGM (female genital mutilation) was discussed a lot there. In a Marie Claire magazine interview Waris Dirie, a famous model, decided to tell about this cruel procedure – laying bare to the world a human rights abuse which had previously only been whispered about in hushed tones. She became the ambassador for the fight against FGM, and in 1997 her bestselling autobiography was published. 13 years later this book found me, and pointed the way to my first Tamu trip, to Kenya, and later on to the journey I am still on today – empowering women around the world, one cake and one woman at a time. From a nomadic life in the Somali dessert, to exclusive designer runaways and UN ambassador – Waris’ journey changed mine, and I am sure her story will make a deep impression on you too.
Having lived in Sri Lanka and worked with victims of rape and incest in many women’s refuges, I have heard one common phrase from the young girls – “I have brought shame on my family, that’s why they have disowned me”. Shame and honour-based abuse is brilliantly explained in “Shame” (and the sequel “Daughters of Shame”) by Jasvinder Sanghera – survivor, campaigner and CEO of an award-winning British charity, Karma Nirvana. At the age of fourteen, Jasvinder was shown a photo of the man chosen to be her husband. Having witnessed the misery caused by her sisters’ arranged marriages, she runs away and is subsequently disowned by her family. “You have shamed us. You are dead in our eyes” is what Jasvinder’s family screamed down the phone to her from Derby. Undaunted she pressed on, and nowadays Karma Nirvana receives 700-800 calls a month. An enthralling first-hand account by a survivor turned enabler for others in a similar situation, and a good starting point for anyone who wants to understand the beliefs behind the horrific practice of forced marriage and honour-based crime.
Mighty be our Powers
“Mighty be our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War” by Leymah Gbowee, the winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace prize, chronicles her journey from the hopelessness and despair, caused by personal circumstances and national strife, to fighting for women’s empowerment across Liberia. The Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart the author’s world, claiming the lives of countless friends and relatives, drove Leymah to lead the Liberian Mass Action for Peace – a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who organised a sex-strike, protested, and confronted Liberian politicians. An inspiring and uplifting read which exemplifies the new generation of powerful women in West Africa. In Leymah’s own words, “This is not a traditional war story. It is about an army of women in white, standing up when no one else would – unafraid, because the worst things imaginable had already happened to us. It is about how we found the moral clarity, persistence and bravery to raise our voices against the war and restore sanity to our land. You haven’t heard it before, because it is an African woman’s story, and our stories rarely are told”.
Half the Sky
“Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is an odyssey through Africa and Asia, meeting the extraordinary women struggling there, faced by sex trafficking, forced prostitution, gang rape, and acid attacks. The portraits of the survivors of all these types of gender-based violence in this book, are an accessible way to find out about the inequalities faced by many women in far-flung parts of this world, from the Cambodian teenager who was sold into sex slavery, to the Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. These Pulitzer prize-winning authors show how a little help can transform the lives of women around the world. The Cambodian girl eventually escapes from the brothel and, with the assistance of an international aid group, builds a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired, and in time became 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”!
In the next series of articles I will introduce you to some key books in women’s rights, featuring the true stories of some extraordinary women who have inspired me to fight, as well as some thought-provoking fictional portraits of women’s lives. Enjoy your reading time, and please leave a comment if you have any questions.