YouTube / Half the Sky Movement
YouTube / Half the Sky Movement

5 Online Campaigns Empowering Women and Girls

YouTube / Half the Sky Movement
YouTube / Half the Sky Movement

Women make up half the world's population, but they face serious challenges—for instance, one third of the world's girls are married before age 18 (with a shocking 1 in 9 married before age 15!). Here are five projects working to close the gap, by focusing on the needs of women and girls.

1. Half the Sky Movement - Games for Good

Where it comes from: Half the Sky was created by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn based on a book they wrote together. Their book chronicles the lives of women throughout Africa and Asia, and argues that one key to progress for the global economy is to unleash the power of women in the labor force. Following the success of the book, Half the Sky moved to a digital platform.

What it does: Beyond the book itself, there's a Facebook Game in which you play as various women around the world solving quests. At various points, the game illustrates why certain issues are important, and encourages players to engage in real-world charitable giving (...or you can keep playing for free, and eventually unlock a partner organization's charitable gift).

There's also a four-hour documentary series (it's streaming on Netflix) and a trio of simple mobile games targeted at the kinds of phones that people actually use in developing countries.

Here's a look at how the mobile games were created:

What it has achieved: I'll just quote from Half the Sky's website:

To date, supporters of the movement have donated more than $5 million to organizations helping women and girls; more than 1.1 million people have played the Facebook game; and more than 1,500 campus and community ambassadors have hosted screenings, held panel discussions, and educated members of their communities about the issues facing millions of women and girls and the inspiring individuals and organizations that are working for a fairer, freer world.

2. Because I Am A Girl: Plan International

Where it comes from: Because I Am A Girl is a project from Plan International (known as "Plan" for short). Plan led the drive to create the Day of the Girl, celebrating girls' rights and increasing visibility of the issues of child marriage and gender inequality.

What it does: Because I Am A Girl creates projects in developing countries that provide access to health care, education, clean water and food, finance, and protection from exploitation. You can view a map of the projects currently underway, and click on each to read more about it (each project has a blog, ways to get involved, and ways to donate). You can also start your own project.

What it has achieved: There are nine projects underway around the world, 4,840 promises made to stand against gender inequality, and Plan activists are stopping child marriages—sometimes on camera!

3. Shot@Life

Where it comes from: Shot@Life is a campaign to protect children by providing life-saving vaccines. By improving awareness about (and funding for) vaccines, Shot@Life is all about reducing preventable childhood deaths.

What it does: Shot@Life is mainly about education and advocacy. The main tool for achieving these goals is their Shot@Life Champions program, in which local leaders can receive training (and even minor funding) to help raise local awareness of the importance of vaccination. Here's a video diary from Shot@Life Champion Cindy Changyit Levin, as she prepares to visit a Congressional representative:

What it has achieved: 192,973 people have pledged to "be a child's shot at life," and Shot@Life explains the overall impact of vaccines for children on its website:

Vaccines currently help save 2.5 million children from preventable diseases every year. With your help, global vaccination programs implemented by our partners can stop the 1.5 million unnecessary deaths that still happen every year, and ensure that all children, no matter where they live, have a shot at a healthy life.

4. Chime for Change

Where it comes from: Chime for Change is a campaign focused on education, health, and justice for girls and women. It was founded by Gucci and partners with the crowdfunding platform Catapult. The idea is to help people connect with Catapult projects that make a difference.

What it does: Chime for Change is supported by major celebrities including Salma Hayek Pinault, Frida Giannini, and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Last year they put on a concert supporting the cause, and they have a film unit creating mini-documentaries, a storytelling platform to collect and share stories about girls and women, and a team-based approach to highlighting projects worthy of funding. (I hate to play favorites, but I'm all about Team Beyoncé.)

What it has achieved: As of November 25, 2013, Chime for Change reported on their progress so far. From that report:

To date, CHIME FOR CHANGE has raised $4.4 million to fully fund more than 260 projects in 81 countries, across 87 non-profit partners. ...

... hundreds of girls and women have received support and tools to empower themselves and their communities, including:

  • 75 sex trafficking victims who have been rescued, and provided with shelter and services
  • 30 young women in the United Kingdom who received mentoring to help them cope with domestic trauma and seek safety
  • 250 young global leaders currently receiving training in NYC to end street harassment
  • Victims of domestic violence in Southern Bulgaria, who now have a local Global Fund for Women branch supporting their needs
  • 340 girls who attended education workshops in India
  • 5,000 patients in Afghanistan who received healthcare and education for one month
  • 655 children in Brazil who received supplies to continue their schooling
  • 127 women in Cambodia who received literacy, life skills and job training
  • 600 people in Ethiopia with access to clean water thanks to two new wells
  • 120 girls who received scholarships to attend secondary school in Malawi
  • 450 young Peruvian women who were educated about HIV/AIDS and pregnancy

There's more where that came from.

5. No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project

Where it comes from: Launched in November, No Ceilings is a project led by Hillary Rodham Clinton, aimed at measuring the progress of women's rights.

What it does: No Ceilings is performing a global review of data about women, to identify where progress has been made and where gaps remain. The idea is that by determining where women stand today, it will be easier to make progress going forward.

Chelsea Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Melinda Gates. Image via Instagram.

What it has achieved: No Ceilings is still very young, so there's not much to point to yet. When Clinton announced the initiative in November, her speech included a clear explanation of why this project matters. My favorite bit was this:

So even though I’ve been doing this for a lot of years now, I am more convinced than ever we are right on the cusp. It used to be, when I would go visit a president or a prime minister and talk about women’s rights, their eyes would glaze over. But when I would say, “And oh, by the way, empowering your women and their economic opportunities means you’ll increase the gross domestic product of your country” – in fact, based on the new research we had, I could show them it’d go up this much percent in Japan, and this much in Korea, and this much in Germany or the United States – or I could say, “If you look at what’s happening in India, villages led by women have more drinking water and child immunizations, a lower gender gap in school attendance and less corruption, so it makes for a more peaceful, productive community.” We have the technology, we have the data, so we are at this turning point, and if we, the women of the United States, act decisively, we can make a real difference not only far from home, but here at home.

YouTube / thelostdisney
5 Fun Facts About Health, Toilets, Muppets, and Presidents
YouTube / thelostdisney
YouTube / thelostdisney

We've been running a series about global health since August 2013. Here are five of the most interesting facts we've uncovered since then.

1. There is a "World Toilet Organization" Run By "Mr. Toilet"

Jack Sim goes by "Mr. Toilet." He left the business world to found the WTO—no, not that one, the World Toilet Organization—in 2001. Starting that year, Mr. Toilet declared November 19 "World Toilet Day," and since then has been on a mission to bring sanitation to people in developing countries.

I urge you to drop what you're doing and watch this short video about Mr. Toilet. Yes, he says "shit" a lot. And it's awesome.

In addition to founding the World Toilet Organization and establishing World Toilet Day, Mr. Toilet is working to convince the world to abandon flush toilets, because they waste water. Sim reminds us that flush toilets waste up to 22 liters of water every day. Something to think about next time you debate whether to "let it mellow."

Learn more in 5 Reasons World Toilet Day is Awesome.

2. The Seven Dwarfs Helped Fight Malaria

Disney made an animated film in 1943 called The Winged Scourge featuring the Seven Dwarfs. It was the first in a series of animated propaganda shorts dealing with public health issues, and the only to feature established Disney characters. I'll summarize this ten-minute video for you: mosquitoes transmit malaria, malaria is bad, so let's kill mosquitoes. With help from dwarves. (Snow White doesn't make an appearance.)

Note that around 0:45 in the video, we see that malaria is still established in the United States in the world map. Malaria wasn't eliminated in the U.S. until 1951.

Read more in 8 Surprising Facts About Malaria.

3. George Washington Had Tremendous Health Problems

"Life of George Washington—The Christian Death" by Junius Brutus Stearns, courtesy of the Library of Congress

George Washington is likely the founding father to have suffered from the widest variety of awful diseases, so let's review some of the worst things that happened to him. As a young man, Washington traveled to Barbados with his brother Lawrence in 1751, in an attempt to cure Lawrence of his TB with fresh air. The attempted cure failed, and George became infected with TB in the process. He also managed to pick up smallpox while in Barbados.

George Washington returned from Barbados only to come down with pleurisy, while his brother Lawrence died from TB. George also contracted malaria (see above), and later suffered from dysentery. He died at age 67 while being treated for a throat infection. The treatment involved bleeding him (32 ounces of blood removed—probably what actually killed him), making him gargle vinegar, inducing vomiting, and nearly suffocating him with a molasses/butter/vinegar potion.

Washington's struggle with disease was so epic that PBS produced an entire article describing and discussing his medical problems and how they might have been solved today. (They noted that he also suffered from diphtheria, quinsy, a carbuncle, pneumonia, and epiglottitis. Ouch. Oh yeah, and he lost his teeth to infection and decay, leaving him with just one remaining tooth upon inauguration as president. He lost that one too.)

Check our the history of presidential pain in 6 Awful Illnesses Suffered By US Presidents.

4. Cookie Monster Promotes Handwashing and Healthy Eating

In April 2013, Cookie Monster emphasized the importance of handwashing as part of an effort to promote sanitation work around the world. (2.5 billion people don't have access to toilets!) He granted an interview on the subject, conducted by the Impatient Optimists blog. Here's a snippet:

Impatient Optimists: We know you’re a cookie enthusiast. Can you tell us your cookie eating ritual?

Cookie Monster: Me cookie eating reputation precedes me. Of course me have ritual! First me wash hands. This part very important because it help keep me healthy. Me not sure exactly how long me wash, but me sing the ABCs slowly and when me get to Z, it time to rinse and then look out, om nom nom nom nom. Me also like to share me cookies with Elmo and Big Bird. Little known secret, a birdseed cookie is delicious.

Cookie Monster also famously sang in 2005 that "A Cookie is a Sometimes Food" in an effort to combat obesity. (In the song, various fruits are declared "anytime foods.") In this video, he struggles with the choice between fresh fruit and a delicious cookie:

Cookie Monster also tackled food issues with a 90s-style rap about healthy eating, complete with gold chains. "Nutrition, it really hip!" Me love it.

Read more in 13 Sesame Street Muppets That Make a Difference.

5. One Man Created Eight of the Most Common Vaccines

Image courtesy of Images from the History of Medicine

Although most people have never heard of him, Maurice Hilleman developed dozens of vaccines, including eight vaccines that you may have received. Hilleman developed vaccines for chickenpox, Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, and pneumonia (among many others). His vaccines saved millions of lives, and I've received a bunch of them myself! His obituary read, in part (emphasis added):

"Hilleman is one of the true giants of science, medicine and public health in the 20th century," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"One can say without hyperbole that Maurice has changed the world," he added.

... "If I had to name a person who has done more for the benefit of human health, with less recognition than anyone else, it would be Maurice Hilleman," Gallo said six years ago. "Maurice should be recognized as the most successful vaccinologist in history."

His obituary is well worth a read, including colorful lines like: "'Montana blood runs very thick,' [Hilleman] said later, 'and chicken blood runs even thicker with me.'" (He grew up on a farm and worked with chickens quite a bit in developing vaccines.) His story is also told in the book Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases.

Read more in 5 Things You Might Not Know About Vaccines.

YouTube / ONE
How Missed Calls Amplify Farmers' Voices
YouTube / ONE
YouTube / ONE

This week, Farm Radio International (FRI) announced the results of an innovative poll covering thousands of farmers. The biggest surprise was the way farmers voted: by calling a phone number and hanging up.

The survey was conducted in Tanzania, where smallholder farms (small family farms) make up around 75% of all farm production. FRI, an international radio service that partners with local stations, wanted to poll those farmers in order to help make their voices heard by the Tanzanian government. But how do you reach thousands of tiny farms spanning a whole country? In the case of Tanzania, the answer was radio talk shows and basic cell phones.

Photo courtesy of ONE / Do Agric

The Power of Radio Talk Shows and Cell Phones

Across Tanzania, there are radio stations broadcasting talk shows aimed at farmers. Those programs are already popular for the people the survey aimed to reach, so FRI partnered with five radio stations in different regions across the country. The local presenters added discussion segments to their programs dealing with the poll issues.

Radio broadcasters concluded the poll segments by asking yes/no questions, then giving out phone numbers that voters could dial into. But people generally don't want to waste their cell phone minutes on a poll, so a clever solution came into play: just call the number, then hang up. The missed call is logged, and that log constitutes a vote. This system is called "Beep to Vote," and it's free for voters because the missed call doesn't incur charges for using cell phone minutes. For yes/no questions, there was one phone number for "yes" and another for "no." A total of 8,891 smallholder farmers participated.

In addition to the "Beep to Vote" yes/no questions, the poll included a multiple-choice question that most voters responded to using SMS. Voters texted a single character ("1" for the first option, "2" for the second, and so on) to a specified phone number, and those results were tallied by computer. In addition to the SMS voting method, farmers could opt to make a voice call to an automated system, listen to the five options, and press a number to indicate their choice. 4,372 people responded to the multiple-choice question. The system was also able to send SMS reminders to voters in case they voted for one of the poll questions, but not the others.

The data was crunched in realtime using a system made by Telerivet, so poll workers could watch as votes came in. The system also checked incoming phone numbers so each phone (which roughly equates to each voter, or household) could only vote once per question.

Photo courtesy of ONE / Do Agric

Why This Matters

From a technological perspective, this poll is a brilliant example of choosing the right technology for the job. If a similar poll were conducted targeting middle-schoolers in the United States, it's likely that technologies like YouTube videos and click-to-vote within the video would be used. But for these Tanzanian farmers, the prevalent technologies are radio and cell phones. By putting them together, in a near zero-cost way, FRI was able to collect data that could influence government policies, which in turn could change livesusing just cellphones and radio.

This poll was part of a campaign called Do Agric, focused on encouraging African leaders to invest more in agriculture, in order to improve farming (and in turn, daily life) in Africa. Here's a video about the program:

When the results were announced earlier this week, Tanzania's President Kikwete said, "Action on agriculture has to be today, not tomorrow!" The voices of 8,891 farmers reached the president's ears.

For more on the survey, check out FRI's page on methodology and results.


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