Half the Sky: Building a Movement Through Media & Technology

Posted on April 29, 2013, by Maura O’Neill, USAID

I remember reading Betty Harragan’s Games Mother Never Taught You when it first came out over thirty years ago. As a woman entrepreneur, that book had a huge impact on me — both in how to navigate at work, a new universe that felt like I had been dropped onto Mars, and how I saw myself as an agent of change.

This was long before cell phones, the Internet, and mobile readers exponentially increased people’s access to information around the world. Today, USAID is working to make sure a whole new generation of women (and men) are exposed to life changing stories and media that have a positive impact for them, but also their families, communities, and countries.

USAID joins Half the Sky, the Ford Foundation, Show of Force, and Games for Change to launch the Half the Sky Movement Media & Technology Engagement Initiative, an integrated media campaign to create behavior change toward gender issues in India and Kenya. 

That’s why I’m thrilled that USAID is a part of a new alliance, along with the Ford Foundation, Show of Force, and Games for Change, called the Half the Sky Movement Media and Technology Engagement Initiative. This new alliance builds on an initiative developed with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of another incredibly inspiring book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

If you have not yet read Half the Sky, it shares powerful stories of women who have lived through horrendous but also horrendously commonplace experiences of forced prostitution, maternal mortality, devastating injuries in childbirth, abuse, and extreme forms of discrimination. Yet it makes an equally powerful argument that women can be, should be, and are agents who transform the world for the better.

At USAID, we know that gender equality and empowerment not only advance our development goals, they’re essential to their long-term success. No community or country can realize its full potential without women and girls having the freedom to be all that they can be. However, in many low- and moderate-income countries, women and girls continue to struggle for equal access to healthcare, education, the justice system, and professional opportunities.

In India, one of two key focal countries of the initiative, there is strong evidence of continued son preference. Girls are underrepresented in births and overrepresented in child deaths. Today, the literacy rate for females is barely 50% and men are twice as likely to be employed. India is home to 40% of the world’s people living in extreme poverty—think about how this problem could be eradicated if girls and women were educated.

In Kenya, the second key focal country of the initiative, a 2008 study shows very low female representation in post-primary education, formal employment, enterprise ownership, and political decision-making processes. Kenya is placed well to be a part of the Africa renaissance, but will only succeed if it embraces the power of its girls.

Over the next two years, together with Nick, Sheryl and our partners, we will work to inspire and create lasting change for women and girls in India and Kenya through an integrated media campaign. The campaign will use a combination of traditional and social media, a powerful approach for shifting gender-related norms and behavior.

To get an idea of the kind of messages and approaches the initiative will implement, I encourage you to check out videos released as part of previous collaborations between USAID and Half the Sky Movement partners. One of my favorites is the story of Pooja, who gains her family’s support to defy convention and continue her education. If this young girl can be brave enough to forge a new path, it is the least we can do to support others in following her lead to become part of the movement.

Maura O’Neill is Chief Innovation Officer at USAID.