Girls Gone Global

An ambitious 30-film project zooms in on women and girls who are changing their fate in far-flung corners of the world. Abigail Pesta reports.

Jenni Morello / PBS

No fewer than 30 films about women and girls around the world will hit screens and social media in the next three years, a star-studded group of women’s advocates announced Monday night in New York City.

NBC News correspondent Ann Curry, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Melanne Verveer were among the advocates who gathered at the Ford Foundation headquarters to announce the project—and also to celebrate the PBS debut of the film Half the Sky, based on the book of the same name by Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.

Kristof and others said they hope all the films will inspire people to get off the couch and help forgotten women and girls in far-flung corners of the world, where news reports often focus on the negative, making people feel overwhelmed.

“As journalists, we cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Planes fly all the time,” Kristof said on a panel at the event. In other words, he said, when people think of Africa, they often think of genocide and disease because these are the issues that make the news. But progress is being made too, he said. It’s just less likely to grab headlines.

The 30-film project, called Women and Girls Lead Global, is a partnership between USAID, the Ford Foundation, and the Independent Television Service, a provider of independently produced programs for PBS, working in collaboration with the nonprofit group CARE. The partnership will create an annual 10-episode documentary film series for the next three years, zooming in on women and girls who change their fate, carving out better lives for themselves and others. While details are still being hammered out, the films are expected to be rolled out on social media and other platforms, participants said.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, the administrator for USAID, the U.S. government agency for international development, said after the event that projects like this can spark a “wave of interest” among young people—and can also save lives. He cited a program with MTV in Asia, where ads showed hotlines for victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery. “We’ve seen kids who were trafficked in boats, stuck in brothels—they’ve seen the ads and called the hotlines,” he said. He called the film project a “quest for justice,” noting that boosting stability, health services, and jobs in developing countries is “critical to national security” in America.

Other panelists at the event included actress and activist Gabrielle Union, who appears in the film Half the Sky; Edna Adan, the former foreign minister of the Somaliland region in northwest Somalia; Helene Gayle, the president and CEO of CARE; Sally Jo Fifer, the president and CEO of the Independent Television Service; Luis Ubinas, the president of the Ford Foundation; and Darren Walker, a vice president at the Ford Foundation, among others.