Even though July’s almost over, there’s still time to add some books to your summer reading list. 

Reading, whether for pleasure or education, can help us make sense of the world around us. Books can provide people with a better understanding of the experiences of marginalized groups and develop empathy instead of discrimination. 

Women and men around the world continue to lack equal opportunities to access education, health care, and well-being. Women’s issues still aren’t made a priority in many countries worldwide, and the need to accelerate progress toward achieving gender equality is becoming more pressing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At this rate, it will take 135 years to close the gender gap. 

Global Citizen asked activists from around the world who are fighting against gender inequality, period poverty, gender-based violence, and more which books they recommend to help Global Citizens understand why we must continue to advocate for gender equality. They suggested a range of texts that touch on everything from sexual and reproductive health issues to equality and empowerment.

1. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Recommended by Mariya Taher, co-founder of the anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) organization Sahiyo, and Trisha Shetty, founder of gender equality NGO SheSays India 

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan .pngCourtesy of W. W. Norton & Company

Taher said:The Feminine Mystique isn't the first book I ever read on gender equality, and I'll admit that I didn't even read it until sometime in the last five to 10 years. I read it because as a feminist and as an advocate in the gender-based violence field, I knew it was considered a revolutionary book that heralded in the second wave of feminism in the US after publication in 1963. 

“I was surprised that as I was reading it decades later, I couldn't help but identify between the unhappiness of women in the 1950s and 1960s and their struggles around societal assumptions about what could be the only paths to fulfilling women's happiness (housework, marriage, children), and that of religious culture I had grown up in — Dawoodi Bohra, a Shia Islamic sect that for all intents and purposes was going back to encouraging these paths as the only paths for happiness for women. 

I couldn't also help but relate to the idea that many of these ideas persisted because women weren't talking to each other about their unhappiness out of fear of being discredited or shamed. Something that I struggled with growing up as I came to question the many ideas of what constituted a good Dawoodi Bohra woman and recognized I could not meet them. This book was written decades ago, but the ideas that surfaced resonated with me strongly as the challenges mentioned are challenges I know many women from a variety of communities and backgrounds still struggle with today.”

“It’s a classic,” Shetty added. 

2. The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig

Recommended by Nadya Okamoto, founder of period care company August 

The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig.pngCourtesy of W. W. Norton & Company

“I read The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution several years ago and its riveting message still resonates with me. This book perfectly embraces the intersection of scientific progress and social change. It provided so much insight into the history of the women’s movement and gender equality —  and how different aspects within advocacy, feminism, and intersectionality have evolved. 

“Reading this book has really helped me understand how imperative it is to understand history and science when working with women’s health. So much of the period movement is linked with the movement for sexual freedom and reproductive rights — this book inspired me to keep pursuing innovation and product and science in the fight for period access. It’s also empowered me to be a badass and be OK with breaking rules in my decision-making since so many of these activists who made history had to be bold and take big risks to fight for their cause.”

3. Sexual Politics by Kate Millett 

Recommended by Finn Mackay, author of the forthcoming book Female Masculinities and the Gender Wars: The Politics of Sex

Sexual Politics By Kate Millett.pngCourtesy of University of Illinois Press

"In terms of the book that I think is full of answers, and which teaches something new on every reading, I have to pick Sexual Politics by the late, great, Kate Millett. It is bold and radical, as befits a womanifesto from a famous Radical Feminist. 

“Millett provides a fiery and unapologetic study of the workings of patriarchy, what it is, how it operates, and, therefore, importantly, how it can be challenged, changed, and one day, ended. Now, as at every other time, there are so many myths about Radical Feminism, and thus it is as important as ever to actually go back to these texts and see for ourselves just what inspiring wisdom can be found in the words of those who blazed the trail for all of us."

4. The Color Purple and 5. Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker

Recommended by Anne-Marie Wilson, founder and executive director of the anti-FGM organization 28 Too Many and author of Overcoming: My Fight Against FGM

TheColorPurple-PossessingTheSecretofJoy-Books.jpgCourtesy of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

“The author that initially inspired me to help end FGM and work in women’s rights was Alice Walker through her books The Colour Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy.

“These books show the impact of FGM through the life of Tashi, who left Africa for the US yet took “her wound with her.” Similar to Tashi’s experience, I met Fatima in West Darfur, Sudan, in 2015 after she had [been subjected to] FGM and had been raped, both by age 10. After helping give her a safe delivery and passage to a distant relative, seeing her with her baby left a shard of glass in my heart, like a wound that has never left.”

6. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Recommended by Diana Sinclair, co-founder of HerStoryDao, an arts foundation for Black women and non-binary Femmes

Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe.pngCourtesy of William Heinemann Ltd.

“The book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe gave me a fuller understanding of how gender inequality, and the patriarchy, are destructive to both the people who are oppressed by it, and those who supposedly benefit from it. No one wins under the patriarchy. In Things Fall Apart, the main character deals with an obsession over masculinity, what we often call “toxic masculinity” now. 

“This book is set in the Umofia clan, during pre-colonial Nigeria, and it shows just how much misogyny is built into their society. In early life, the main character and his father were often called “Agbala” as an insult, meaning woman or lesser-than-a man. It’s noticeable how these roles also affect the women in the tribe. This is a clear example that not only do women and gender-nonconforming people suffer because of the patriarchy, but so do men. It’s an important realization to come to because we need to rid ourselves of the oppressive systems that hold us all down.”

7. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

Recommended by Shomy Hasan Chowdhury, co-founder of global, youth-led organization Awareness 360 

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.pngCourtesy of Chatto & Windus

“This informative book helped me understand the impact the lack of big data has on women and how it fuels gender inequality. The arguments were very well presented by the author with relatable examples and research pointers. Some of the cases [Criado Perez] made regarding the prevalent gender data gap were eye-opening. The passion and rage of the author were evident throughout this book, and it definitely intrigues a thirst for finding out more about the complex issue of gender inequality.”

Interested in more? The Book of V. by Anna Solomon, which explores how women have fought patriarchy throughout history, is the July pick for the Global Citizen Book Club. Learn how to join our Book Club here!


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Global Citizen Life

Demand Equity

The 7 Best Books to Learn About Gender Equality, Recommended by Activists

By Leah Rodriguez