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Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide

Girl at New Light Crèche in Kolkata, India.
Courtesy of Josh Bennett
Girl at New Light Crèche in Kolkata, India.

Airs Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 at 9 p.m. & Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

A landmark series based on the book by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, "Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide" follows six actress-advocates, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, America Ferrera, and Olivia Wilde, as they travel to six countries and meet inspiring, courageous individuals who are confronting oppression and developing real, meaningful solutions through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls.

The film, introduced by George Clooney, aims to amplify the central message of the book –- that women are not the problem, but the solution –– and to bolster the broad and growing movement for change.

Episode One airs Monday, Oct. 1 at 9 p.m. - 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.


“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.” - Nicholas Kristof

“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.”

“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.”


The issues women and girls face stretch far and wide across the globe, and progress can often feel slow when the numbers of oppressed women are so high. But if there is one thing to take away from the Half The Sky Movement, it is this: There are solutions.

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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.

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.

Episode Two airs Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. - 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.

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.

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.

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Half The Sky Trailer
Half The Sky Movement: Fistulas & the Edna Adan Hospital
Half The Sky: Forced Prostitution Feature
Half The Sky: Ann Cotton on Gender Equality
Half the Sky Movement: Helene Gayle on Gender Inequality
Half the Sky Movement: Leymah Gbowee on Women's Rights Worldwide
Half The Sky Movement: Sakena Yacoobi on Education
Half The Sky Movement: Desmond Tutu on Gender-Based Violence