Many Americans know about the inspiring book clubs of female media celebrities like Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey. Most have not heard about unsung book club heroes like Rufi Natarajan.
Rufi is a mid-50s, Pakistani-American businesswoman who lives in Houston, TX. Her book club of smart, engaging women recently read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They met a few weeks ago to share a meal and discuss Half the Sky, as many clubs do. That was just the beginning.
This book club was incensed and compelled to action. They have so far raised $700 for the aid organization Mercy Corps' efforts to empower women around the world. They created a sub-group to learn about and support a microfinance organization that offers people in the developing world small loans to start businesses. Rufi is now recruiting more book clubs to read Half the Sky; she's been speaking about the plight of women in developing countries and writing articles to attract more American women to the cause.
Rufi is a book club leader turned activist, and she's not alone. Across the U.S., more than 400 book clubs - reaching over 6,500 people - are participating in a remarkable initiative started by Mercy Corps to encourage reading Half the Sky and taking action to help women improve their lives. Book clubs in places as far-flung as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom have joined in.
Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn have vowed to visit the book club that is most passionately committed to activism - the group that most persistently raises money, rings up the media, lobbies their legislatures, and gets the word out about how important it is for women around the world to have full access to rights and resources.
Rufi recently wrote, "The book's reader is forced to turn her eyes towards a silent massacre; most readers will want to take action to bring about positive change. Coming from Pakistan, I could have been one of the women in this book, I never forgot that." Half the Sky's gut-wrenching tales of oppression chronicle women who suffer from rape, child prostitution and avoidably dangerous childbirths. It's painful to read but the stories of women surviving and thriving are what inspire readers like Rufi to take up the cause of women's empowerment.
This month, my book club will follow in the footsteps of Rufi and thousands of other women. We will gather in my Boston living room to take up Half the Sky and the hopes and dreams of women around the world. I hope you'll join us.