ABOVE PHOTO: Gabrielle Union and local student Duyen Le ride bikes in Thu Thua, Vietnam.
[Editor’s note: If you missed the broadcast, you may watch the program online for a limited time. Part 1 one will stream online from October 2 – 8 and Part 2 from October 3 – 9, both on PBS Video]
San Francisco, CA— Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a Show of Force LLC and Fugitive Films production developed in association with the Independent Television Service (ITVS), is a special television event that uses in-the-moment investigations and emotionally explosive storytelling to confront the greatest moral challenge of our time: the oppression of women and girls around the world.
Filmed in 10 countries and inspired by the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the series is driven by the growing awareness that empowering women is the best way to increase prosperity and stability around the globe.
Six talented actress-advocates — Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, Diane Lane, America Ferrera, and Olivia Wilde — join Kristof as he travels to Asia and Africa to meet face-to-face with inspiring individuals working to bring about change and the women and girls who confront extreme gender inequality in their daily lives. Introduced by George Clooney, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will broadcast nationally as a special presentation of Independent Lens, premiered on Monday, October 1 and Tuesday, October 2 from 9:00 PM-11:00 PM ET on PBS.
Women and girls around the globe face threats — trafficking, prostitution, violence, and discrimination — every day of their lives. Says WuDunn, “In the same way that slavery was a moral challenge for the 19th century and totalitarianism was a challenge for the 20th century, the challenge that women and girls face around the world is the moral challenge of our time.” As we see in the series, hope endures as fearless women and men are developing innovative ways to turn the tide.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a landmark transmedia project with robust content across multiple platforms, including the four-hour PBS and international broadcast event, a Facebook-hosted social-action game and mobile games created by Games for Change, two websites, 20 educational video modules with companion text, a social-media campaign supporting over 30 partner NGOs, and an impact assessment plan. The project is part of the Women and Girls Lead initiative, spearheaded by ITVS in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS.
PHOTO: Nicholas Kristof, Prize-winning journalist and author of Half The Sky in Somaliland.
Episode One –Eva Mendes and Nicholas Kristof investigate gender-based violence in Sierra Leone, a country where most of the assaults and rapes go unreported. They meet with Amie Kandeh, who works with the International Rescue Committee and runs three of West Africa’s sexual assault referral centers. Kandeh reveals that the vast majority of the center’s rape and sexual assault cases are young women under 17, with 26 percent under age 12.
At the police station with her parents by her side, 14-year-old Fulamatu accuses a pastor of raping her. We follow the case closely as several witnesses back up her statements, but justice proves elusive in a country where police officers conduct “armchair investigations” rather than look for evidence or confront the suspect, and where accusations of rape bring shame on the family of the victim rather than the perpetrator.
In Cambodia, where 30 percent of prostitutes are children, the series examines the issue of sex trafficking. Meg Ryan and Kristof meet Somaly Mam, herself sold into slavery as a young girl, but who is now a world-renowned leader in the anti-trafficking struggle. Mam runs a center to rehabilitate and educate girls rescued from brothels. She introduces Somana, sold at age 13 and forced to work as a prostitute, her eye gouged out by the brothel owner.
When Mam learns that underage girls have been discovered in a brothel on the Thai border, she organizes a daring raid with the help of local authorities and Kristof and the cameras capture this dramatic and dangerous effort to free underage girls being held as sex slaves. Working tirelessly to bring the voices of these girls to the world, Mam uses innovative approaches, such as a weekly radio show, to raise awareness. “We’re going to change Cambodia,” she says. “We want you to hear from us. If you don’t listen to us, we’ll keep on talking. We’re not tired at all.”
Gabrielle Union and Kristof visit Vietnam with former Microsoft marketing executive John Wood, who started Room to Read, an organization which works to promote literacy and equal education for girls across the developing world. In Vietnam women have been traditionally devalued, and many girls are kept at home to tend to household chores while boys continue their education.
PHOTO: Eva Mendes with the IRC Women’s Protection and Empowerment Coordinator Amie Kandeh in Sierra Leone.
Duyen, a teenage girl in the Room to Read program, travels 17 miles by bike and boat to get to school from her rural home. Nhi, age 14, is the primary earner in the household, put to work by her father selling lottery tickets seven days a week. Phung, also 14, rises at 3:00 AM to care for her younger brothers and sisters while her father works as a day laborer. But she is going to school, encouraged and supported by her father, because they understand that education is their only way out of poverty.
“When you educate a girl, there’s a ripple effect that goes beyond what you would get from a normal investment,” says Sheryl WuDunn. “When you educate a girl, she tends to get married later on in life, she tends to have fewer kids. She takes better care of her kids. She has greater economic opportunity. She might create a business so she can contribute to the local economy. When you educate a girl, you educate a village.”
Episode Two–“Half a million women a year die in childbirth,” says Nicholas Kristof. “It’s not biology that’s killing them but neglect.” Diane Lane and Kristof investigate maternal mortality in Somaliland, where one in 12 women dies in childbirth due to poor nutrition and the effects of female genital mutilation (FGM) — also known as cutting — a brutal ritual that has been performed on more than 130 million women around the world. They meet with Edna Adan, founder of the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital, Somaliland’s first maternal health facility.
Adan saves the lives of pregnant women on a daily basis with sophisticated health care and C-sections. She also trains midwives, who then return to their communities, and works to educate women about the dangers of FGM, which causes infection and scarring that leads to difficulties in childbirth. Lane and Kristof visit the hut of a local woman who performs cuttings and learn how Adan and her army of midwives are trying to turn the tide against this dangerous, deeply entrenched tradition.
In India it is estimated that 90 percent of sex workers’ daughters follow their mothers into prostitution and, of the three million prostitutes in the country, 1.2 million are children. In Kolkata, America Ferrera and Kristof visit the Kalighat red-light district to meet Urmi Basu, who is working to break the tradition of forced prostitution passed down from mothers to daughters. Basu’s New Light shelter program was established to protect and educate young girls, children, and women who are at high risk for commercial sexual exploitation.
We meet two of the shelter’s brightest girls, whose mothers are still in active prostitution — Sushmita, whose mother believes her daughter can have a different future than her own and is thriving in private school and dreams of becoming a lawyer; and Monisha, whose mother wants her to return to her village and what Urmi is certain will be a life of prostitution. As Kristof says, “We, as Americans, have won the lottery of life and the distinction between us and people living in Kalighat is not that we are smarter, not that we’re harder working, not that we’re more virtuous — it’s that we’re luckier.”
Economic empowerment is key to turning the tide against poverty, violence, and the oppression of women. When women have money of their own, they invest more than twice as much as men in their families, education, and the future. In Kenya, Olivia Wilde joins Kristof to see firsthand how women entrepreneurs are changing not only their lives but their communities. Ingrid Munro founded Jamii Bora, a microfinancing organization for women; one of Jamii Bora’s greatest success stories is Jane Ngori, a former prostitute and single mother of four who is now running a dressmaking business.
In Nairobi, they meet Rebecca Lolosoli, the founder of an all-women’s village called Umoja, which was established as a haven from rape and violence and sustains itself by creating and selling traditional beaded wares. “One of the best ways that we can deal with all of the abuses that are so troubling against women and girls is through economic empowerment,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Unleashing the economic potential of women is a win-win economic strategy.”