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Mashable Social Good Summit Day 2: Empowering Women

   /   Sep 21st, 2011News

This week, Mashable, the UN Foundation and 92Y are hosting a Social Good Summit – a four-day event to facilitate conversation about tech and social change. See three can’t-miss announcements from Day 1 here.

Tuesday’s Social Good Summit (SGS) revealed one big announcement (Serena Williams: new UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador), and one big theme – empowering women is at the forefront of development.

This is something we’ve seen across the conferences this week. Tim Wirth, former Senator and President of the UN Foundation, who joined the Social Good Summit as a surprise wrap-up guest, said it’s also a pressing issue at the UN General Assembly, which is also meeting this week.

SGS panelist and filmmaker Abigail Disney underlined the importance of focusing the world’s attention on women. “If you think about it, in the Millenia, what’s the one thing we haven’t tried [as a venue for change]?” she said. “Women.”

The strategy touted at yesterday’s two panels that addressed women and girls was to improve the way the media portrays women.

Geena Davis, actress and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, explained that their reasoning has its roots in culture. According to Davis, and research from her institute, women characters in film and television, today, have “little aspirations beyond romance.” 81% of the characters that hold jobs in G-Rated films released between September 2006 and September 2009 are male. That same study found no women with jobs in law, medicine, science, politics or business.

“Microfinance programs are amazing,” she said, “But without the cultural support, it won’t gain traction.”

Davis also pointed out that the United States has a huge responsibility in correcting the issue. “80% of the media worldwide comes from the U.S.” she said. “Why are we sending Beverly Hills Housewives over to the Congo when they’re trying to raise up women?”

The second panel, which included Davis, PBS CEO Paula Kerger, filmmaker Abigail Disney, and Games of Change Co-President Asi Burak, explored PBS’ efforts to shift the perception of women in media with  Women and Girls Lead, a multi-year initiative that re-focuses attention on women and girls’ leadership and challenges through fifty documentaries. It kicks off on October 11th with the premiere of Disney’s Women, War & Peace, a five-part mini-series that looks at conflict through the eyes of women (which, disclosure, I used to work for.)

Burak explained that Games of Change will use gamification to help promote PBS’ television version of Half the Sky, Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s transformational book on the state of women and girls worldwide. Their goal is to use a Facebook game, yet to be released, to engage a different audience.

“We hope this [initiative] will be a catalyst for organizationss and people all over the world to use these films to create conversation and communities,” said Kerger. “We want this to be more than just a media event, but a transformational event.

“If Farmville can put dollars into Zynga’s pocket, why not use that power for NGOs?” he said.

But despite the power of their message and strategy, and its importance as a piece of the puzzle, I left feeling a tad empty. We talk a lot about empowerment and raising awareness, but how do we translate that discussion to create real impact? Awareness is vital. But it’s one piece of the puzzle. A yin to a yang.

At Dowser, we focus on the yang, so I compiled five archived articles that examine an array of strategies to empower women via on-the-ground impact. No one is the answer – I’m not sure there ever will be just one answer – but hopefully, a wider perspective will help illustrate how to translate awareness and engagement to impact.

  • Solar Sisters “Solar Sisters is using cosmetics company AVON’s model to distribute solar energy in Uganda, Sudan, and Rwanda. To learn more about the “business in a bag” model that’s giving rural African women an income and a renewable light source, Dowser spoke to Katherine Lucey, Solar Sister’s founder.”
  • Retelling and Rethinking Masculinity “Men who buy into traditional ideas about manhood are more likely to engage in harmful behaviors. And when men who buy into hazardous gender norms hold positions of power in male-dominated institutions, gender inequality and patriarchy become entrenched through policy — affecting the ability of all people to live to their fullest potential.”

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