Half the Sky Characters

The main characters in Half the Sky are Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

  • Nicholas D. Kristof is a journalist and one of the authors of Half the Sky. Like his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, Kristof is both part of the narrative voice and a third-person character in the book.
  • Sheryl WuDunn, also a journalist, is the other author of Half the Sky. WuDunn is married to Kristof and sometimes uses her gender to explore environments that Kristof cannot.


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Last Updated on April 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1197

Nicholas D. Kristof

Kristof, referred to as Nick throughout the book, is a New York Times op-ed columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He appears in a third-person character role in several chapters, making him both an active participant and one part of an observer pair.

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Sheryl WuDunn

Sheryl WuDunn is an editor, a columnist, and “the first Asian-American to win a Pulitzer.” She appears less frequently in the third person than Kristof, but like him, she leverages her gender to gain access to restricted environments, like the locker room of a “men’s club” in Hong Kong.

Srey Rath

Srey Rath, a Cambodian girl who fell victim to a sex trafficking operation at age fifteen, impresses the authors with her playful personality and mental fortitude. She is “small-boned, pretty, vibrant, and bubbly,” with a sense of confidence and trust that belies the trauma she has experienced. Her story exemplifies the power of workforce training to help women recover from trauma.

Meena Hasina

Meena has spent most of her life under the control of the Nutt, “a low-caste tribe” that runs the region’s prostitution scheme. Once a sex slave herself, she was successful in her effort to free her children from the brothel where they were born. Now she is viewed with suspicion by her neighbors in Forbesgunge, India, where she represents a threat to the livelihood of traffickers, brothel owners, and corrupt policemen alike.

Ainul Bibi

Ainul Bibi is the “tyrant” and “matriarch” responsible for the girls who are held captive in her family’s brothel. Despite having been sold into prostitution at a young age herself, she lacks sympathy for the suffering she imposes upon her victims, including her own daughters.

Ruchira Gupta

Ruchira Gupta is a former journalist and the founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide. She uses her personal connections with national officials to pressure corrupt local police officers to enforce anti-trafficking laws. Ruchira is one of few leaders willing to fight for women in Bihar, an Indian state known for its lawlessness.

Frank Grijalva

Frank Grijalva is the principal of the Overlake School, a prestigious private school located in a wealthy Seattle suburb. His post-9/11 effort to immerse his students in a meaningful public service project led to their creation of the “Overlake School in Cambodia,” which serves nearly three hundred underprivileged children. He considers the school to be the “most meaningful and worthwhile” project of his career.

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Kun Sokkea

After her father passed away from AIDS and her mother fell ill “with the same disease,” it appeared that thirteen-year-old Kun Sokkea would have to get a job to support her siblings. Instead, her family was given an attendance-contingent cash transfer of ten dollars per month. Although it was not enough to lift them out of poverty, this reliable source of income made it more difficult for traffickers to prey upon their desperation.

Usha Narayane

When college-educated Usha Narayane resisted mob rule in India’s Kasturba Nagar slum, she unwittingly set off a community revolt against neighborhood criminals and the corrupt policemen who protected them. She became “the heroine of the slum,” trading a profitable job for a leadership role in her community. Her story illustrates the effect of education on female empowerment in highly stratified societies.

Akku Yadav

For more than a decade, Indian mob boss Akku Yadav brutalized the residents of Kasturba Nagar. Using “sexual humiliation” as a weapon, he exacted tribute from those who could scarcely afford their own necessities. It wasn’t until he waged an attack against the seemingly-invulnerable Narayane family that the neighborhood joined together to end his tyranny.

Woineshet Zebene

In a region where shame prevents victims from reporting sexual assault, Ethiopian teenager Woineshet Zebene defied her community’s traditions when she refused to marry her rapist. Her story inspired American women to pressure the Ethiopian government to modernize their rape laws, but laws mean little unless they are enforced. Knowing this, Woineshet plans to become a lawyer and advocate for girls like herself.

Mukhtar Mai

After Mukhtar was sentenced to a brutal gang rape for a crime her brother was falsely accused of committing, she demanded justice from the highest levels of her government. She found an unlikely—and temporary—ally in Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, whose grant launched her career as an advocate for educational reform.

Because few people are as keenly aware of a community’s needs as those who live there themselves, Kristof and WuDunn consider women like Mukhtar to be the “most effective change agents.”

Mahabouba Muhammad

Mahabouba punctuates her interview with “self-mocking laughter,” but the authors notice traces of pain in her eyes as she describes the abuse she endured as a captive child-wife injured by a complicated childbirth. After her own surgery, she became a member of the nursing staff at Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Her story personifies both the stigma of birth-related injuries and the opportunity that exists for those who are treated.

Simeesh Segaye

Simeesh endured two years of ostracism and depression before her family sold their livestock to pay for her to be cared for by the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. She has since regained her “dignity and enthusiasm for life” as she works toward recovery. For the authors, she represents the individual behind the maternal morbidity data. They hope that her story will galvanize donors and volunteers into action.

Catherine Hamlin

Catherine Hamlin is an Australian gynecologist who founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital with her late husband, a fellow ob-gyn. The Hamlins had never encountered a fistula in Australia, where C-sections prevent the obstructive complications that could otherwise lead to such morbidities.

In Ethiopia, Catherine has performed more than 25,000 fistula surgeries on a population she believes should be the most “pitied in the world.” Whereas people living with AIDS or leprosy may find support from aid organizations, few people know about the plight of women with fistulas. Catherine’s goal is to draw international attention toward these “voiceless” victims.

Allan Rosenfield

As a young military physician serving in Korea, Allan Rosenfield witnessed “horrendous childbirth injuries unimaginable in the United States.” His experience inspired him to devote his career to reducing maternal mortality worldwide. He started an organization called Averting Maternal Death and Disability (AMDD), which advocates for maternal health as a human rights issue. AMDD now operates in fifty countries, where it provides access to inexpensive obstetric supplies, including kits that allow rural doctors to perform C-sections.

Dai Manju

When the authors first met Dai Manju, she was a teenage girl living in a secluded village located “in the hardscrabble Dabie Mountains of central China.” She excelled at school, and after the authors wrote an article about her for the New York Times, she received a scholarship to continue her education for “as long as she was able to pass exams.” Dai Manju ultimately earned a degree in accounting that enabled her to vastly improve her family’s quality of life.

Saima Muhammad

When Saima Muhammad joined a “women’s solidarity group” affiliated with the Kashf Foundation, she was the unappreciated wife of an unemployed and abusive man. Now she is the “tycoon of the neighborhood,” where she employs thirty families in her lucrative embroidery business. She is a success story of female-targeted microfinance programs in the developing world.

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