International Women’s Health: Pages for Progress

Three books about challenges and triumphs of women around the globe

The issues faced by women in developing countries are complex and broad but are often matched in scope and energy by the individuals and the organizations committed to bringing about change. To honor these advocates and better understand their causes, we’ve selected three books about important work being done around the globe to improve women’s lives by raising awareness about abuses and adversity and presenting viable solutions.

From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and JusticeBy Anne Firth Murray (Common Courage Press, 2008)

The unique health challenges facing women around the world are the focus of author Anne Firth Murray—founding president of the Global Fund for Women, a women’s rights foundation—in From Outrage to Courage. Though the subject matter is often shocking and unsettling—including domestic violence, sex-selective abortions, and rising rates of HIV/AIDS among adolescent girls—the prevailing message is hopeful. Firth uncovers the social, ethical, and political roots of these health crises and analyzes their causes and consequences to create a roadmap for positive change. Leading the progress are the women of the poor countries themselves who are working to effect change; Firth describes these women as a “strong and inevitable force.”

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
By Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf, 2009)

According to husband-and-wife authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the oppression of girls and women in the developing world isn’t only a major human rights violation but also a barrier to economic prosperity. In Half the Sky, Kristof and WuDunn (both Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists) describe brutality against women across Africa and Asia but also offer true-life example of how a little help—in the form of awareness, education, and assistance from individuals and organizations—can drastically improve these women’s lives. And as women in the developing world are freed from oppression and abuse and can join their countries’ economies, they make critical contributions to the prosperity of their nations. As the Chinese proverb in the book’s opening pages states, “Women hold up half the sky.”

A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman
By Lisa Shannon (Seal Press, 2010)

Sometimes it takes only one woman to create a movement. Such is the case of Lisa Shannon, who raises sponsorship for Congolese women, a movement she began with a solo 30-mile run. Her inspiration: learning of the atrocities suffered by women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, widely referred to as “the worst place on earth to be a woman.” Shannon’s initial fundraising run led her to found Run for Congo Women (, a fundraising movement to help thousands of Congolese women rebuild their lives. Raising support for Congolese women, however, has not been enough for Shannon; she has also traveled deep into war-ravaged Congo to meet her sponsored “sisters” in person. In her book she chronicles her journey from concerned onlooker to in-the-trenches advocate.