It's 2pm on a Sunday afternoon at the start of autumn. Short downpours have interrupted bursts of warm sunshine since mid morning and my eyes are stinging from the stories I have just finished reading. This is the hardest book I have read in a long time.
It all started four weeks ago
Sue Lloyd-Roberts' book, 'The War on Women And the Brave Ones Who Fight Back' came out at the beginning of August this year (2016).
The author was a pioneering video journalist and during her 30-year-long career she travelled the world and witnessed the worst atrocities inflicted on women. Or so the blurb puts it. Sue died in 2015, shortly before completing the final chapter of this book.
I discovered this book in the Edinburgh Festival book tent. The title leapt out at me. The chapter titles were no less arresting: The Cruellest Cut: Female Genital Mutilation, From Russia with Love: Sex Trafficking, Saudi Arabia: The World's Largest Women's Prison; they went on.
That title. Those topics. The author. They all played on my mind as I flitted around, buzzing at my first Fringe. On my final day in Edinburgh I had no choice but to run back to the tent and buy it.
Four weeks later
It's taken me some time to get through this relatively short book. Not for the sake of style - it's an easy and accessible read. And not because I didn't start it straight away (I'm a one-book-at-a-time girl). But because, for the sake of my heart, I had to take breaks.
Every chapter is full of stories: first-hand interviews, government statistics, eye-witness accounts and real women who have been through every kind of suffering. The realities are so harrowing that it's hard to move from chapter to chapter without time to stop and reflect.
At the same time the details are so compelling, so earth-shattering and so eye-opening that once you've plucked up the courage to keep going it's almost impossible to put down until you are so drained you have no choice.
And so here I am, at the end, heart-broken by the global extent of this war on women and its undeniable reality.
Systemic abuse, rape, violence and oppression
They are horrible words. They litter Sue Lloyd-Roberts' book and they shame humanity. And why? Because women are not valued.
It is the reason Faith gives for her experience. A rape survivor from the Congo, Faith was punished for protesting against the government's failure to protect the country's women. Government forces threw her in jail where she was beaten and repeatedly raped.
Because women are not valued. It is the reason for every chapter of this book. It is as true in Saudi Arabia as it is in Ireland. As palpable in Egypt as the UK.
Time after time, the women that Sue speaks to have suffered because they are seen as less valuable, less important, less competent, less capable and, ultimately, less human.
The results are psychological, physical and permanent harm. And everywhere there are failures by those in power to make any real effort to change minds.
Why everyone should read 'The War on Women'
Everyone should read this book because it makes it clear: FGM is not a cultural practice; the pay gap isn't just a crime; the Dublin Laundries weren't a cruel exception; female infanticide in India isn't an isolated tragedy.
All of these things and more are reflections of the centuries-long war that has been waged against women and continues to be fought.
It is global. It affects everyone. When a young girl reads a headline about a female Indian medical student being violently gang-raped and murdered in Delhi, she is a victim.
In turn, when a young boy hears that the Indian government reacted with force to the thousands of Indian women turning out to protest against increasing instances of rape, he hears that women's voices are not important.
This book is full of real stories, which in turn are representative of hundreds of thousands of real lives, real experiences and real oppression. This book hurts my heart.
That said, this book's very existence - the fact that Sue has told these stories - is a sign of hope. Now it's up to us to read these stories and, in any way we can, stand with those brave ones who fight back.