My Turn

Help Hold Up 'Half the Sky'

10/02/2012 4:15 AM

The same day last week the WICT executive women’s luncheon talked up the value of women’s voices in making corporate decisions, over at the Ford Foundation, reporter Nick Kristof was talking about even bigger challenges facing women and girls around the world.

Things like being forced into prostitution, dying during childbirth or simply being pressed into marriage as a child instead of going to school.

Kristof, the Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times correspondent, was part of a preview event for Half the Sky, a documentary series adapted from a book he wrote with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, about turning women’s oppression into opportunity.

The scenes that were screened — notably a visit by Kristof and actress Gabrielle Union to Vietnam to visit a 14-year-old girl, Nhi, who bikes 17 miles each way to school under even harder conditions than that implies — were direct, compelling and great television. That’s officially a plug for the show.

But Kristof’s answer when host Ann Curry asked him why he and WuDunn decided to focus on women’s struggles also was worth passing along.

He said he came to realize that if you want to address global poverty, social conflicts, environmental stresses on the planet made worse by overpopulation — “there are no silver bullets, but the best leverage you have is to invest in girls.”

The Vietnam trip also included former Microsoft marketing executive John Wood, who started Room to Read, an organization that supports the school Nhi attends. The opportunity part of Kristof’s message is the worthy groups he and WuDunn highlight. The doc’s success, he said, will be measured not by viewers’ numbers, but by how many take action to support those groups after watching. Half the Sky airs on PBS Oct. 1 and 2 at 9 p.m.