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Everyone has a story to tell. However, many people’s voices are stifled due to the environment or circumstance that they find themselves in. Be it overcrowded classrooms, impoverished nations or under a regime that persecutes minorities, many don’t have a platform to deliver their stories or more importantly, speak their truth – especially women and girls. Film is one of the most powerful mediums to not only present stories, but to inspire millions of individuals across the world to partner with their communities and transform lives; this is the message behind Women and Girls Lead Global (WGLG).

WGLG is a multimedia campaign in partnership with ITVS, USAID, Ford Foundation and CARE designed to spark real change on global challenges like gender-based violence, gender inequality, child marriage and teen pregnancy using documentary film and innovative impact strategies. And these stories are just as powerful and compelling as the women who tell them. 

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Running WGLG is The Independent Television Service (ITVS), bringing an unprecedented 50+ documentary films to public television every year. Recently, ITVS and the Women and Girls Lead Global held an event engaging the tech community in San Francisco to become part of this global initiative. Participants from a wide range of companies and organizations spent the day tackling challenges in several countries and brainstormed how technology might accelerate the impact of our local campaigns. But this is only one part of WGLG’s larger plan. I had a chance to speak with Tamara Gould, Senior Vice President of National Production and Strategic Partnerships at ITVS and was able to gain a deeper insight into WGLG and its plans to build upon its existing platform with a little help from Silicon Valley.

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WGLG: Creating Social Change Step By Step

From selecting the films to generating community led transformation, ITVS uses a multi-step process to create the powerful WGLG multimedia platform. As Tamara Gould explains, “ITVS builds relationships with filmmakers from many countries outside the United States as well. That means that we’re always tracking the best documentary films about gender being made out there in the world. We look for stories that can spark conversations about the issues we’re working on: child marriage, gender-based violence, leadership and education. But a powerful story that works at the more general level of empowerment can also work across those issues.”

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Once ITVS curates the collection of films, the WGLG leaders in each country pick the films they feel will be most useful on a local level. Gould states, “They’ve already assembled a group of NGOs who are working together in ways that are modeled on the idea of collective impact. The film screenings that WGLG organizes provide opportunities to bring these partners together, amplify their efforts and convene audiences. At the same time, we have television broadcasters putting these films on the air, helping create an overall environment with more stories about inspiring women and girls.”

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The “Three Film” Model

Screenings of films are the next step, and according to Gould, those lead to the greatest impact. “We train facilitators to do the screenings. After watching a film, they start conversations about what’s going on in the local community. We’ve developed a three-film model which essentially helps move audiences from being a viewer to taking action. In this model, the first film gets people talking. At the second screening, they’re invited to take individual action related to the film. By the third screening, we invite people to join the campaign and take a broader action on behalf of the community.”

The final part in the process is the creation of multi-media presentations. “We make short films, radio shows, or animations, depending on the country, that tell the success stories and highlight examples of positive change. A story that captures the success of a movement in Bangladesh, for example, inspires another community to join the campaign, and another group of girls to organize their own club. And impact spreads.”

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WGLG’s Campaign Is Inspiring True Change

Though the media campaign is still in its infancy stages of measurement and evaluation, and any available data is preliminary, ITVS and WGLG have seen the beginnings of some promising changes. Gould shares some impressive statistics:

–        In Bangladesh, reporting from campaign schools shows the child marriage rate fell 20 percent, and the dropout rate is down 31 percent.

–        In Kenya, evaluators found that many women who attended screenings reported taking some sort of leadership action, while mass media platforms reached 2.7 million TV viewers and 2.3 million radio listeners.

–        In Peru, surveys showed that campaign participants’ use of health clinics went up 25 percent and their awareness rose 28 percent.

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The young girl’s sign above reads: “I’m Lota, a student of class six in Jorepukuria High School, Meherpur. I want to be a pilot when I grow up; my parents are supporting me in fulfilling my dream. They are determined not to marry me off before I finish school. We are here to pledge with our parents that we will not get married before we turn eighteen!”

Next Step: Tackling Gender Inequality With Help From Silicon Valley

Women and Girls Lead Global recently held an event engaging the tech community in San Francisco with participants from a range of companies and organizations spending the day tackling challenges in each country, and thinking about how technology might accelerate the impact of local campaigns.

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“The Jordan team prototyped an app that would make it easier for domestic violence victims to get private access to services. The Kenya team looked at gaming approaches to seed leadership training for teenage girls. Even though none of these approaches were directly tackling the gender gap in Silicon Valley, there was a strong sense that showing what technology can do to tackle gender problems—and us being the voices asking the tech industry to get more involved in these challenges—could help show companies the energy that exists for more emphasis on gender.”

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According to Gould, the enthusiasm, turnout and commitment of the people who came that day were truly impressive. “We hope that by continuing to work with the tech community, we can give them something to be proud of in contributing to global gender equality—and that it can be part of a conversation within their company to look at what happens when you put the thinking about women and girls in the forefront, rather than the background.”

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From 2011 to 2015, WGLG brought 60 films about women and girls to 55.1 million Americans, working with community partners to raise awareness and inspire action. Now, their horizons have widened with a dedicated focus on the challenges facing women and girls around the world. Just imagine the numbers in the next decade. As WGLG motto states, “Her Story Is Unstoppable.”

All Photos and Video Courtesy of ITVS and WGLG

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