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Women's battle against exploitation is focus of PBS show

“Half the Sky” documents the worldwide epidemic of exploitation of women.
BY Jacqueline Cutler Modified: September 29, 2012 at 11:32 pm •  Published: October 1, 2012

The toddler with the chubby cheeks and lopsided ponytail had been sold. After she was raped at 2, her mother sold her to a brothel. Somaly Mam, an amazing woman who rescued the now-3-year-old, hugs her.

PBS' “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” a four-hour documentary premiering Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 1 and 2 (check local listings), brims with such gut-wrenching stories. It's not overstatement to say that this is the most upsetting documentary most people will see, and it carries a viewer discretion warning. However, what must be stressed is the positive change brought about by those helping girls and women.

PBS has a website,, suggesting ways for people to help.

Based on the best-seller of the same title by husband and wife Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the documentary features actresses Diane Lane, Meg Ryan, America Ferrera, Eva Mendes, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde visiting 10 countries in Asia and Africa.

George Clooney introduces the film, explaining that stars can use their celebrity to help raise awareness. And we should all be aware of the horrifying facts, including that worldwide, females aged 15 to 54 are more likely to be killed or maimed by men than by cancer, malaria and war — combined.

In Cambodia, highlighted in the first episode, sex trafficking is rampant. There, Mam, a former sex slave, started a foundation where that chubby-cheeked toddler and scores of once-abused girls live in a nurturing environment.

“My mission is helping the victim to be a survivor,” Mam says. “I want to empower survivors to stand up and say no if they want to say no.”

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