Based on the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the Facebook game, Half the Sky launched on March 4 in anticipation of International Women’s Day. Pulitzer-Prize winning journalists, Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn wrote about their experiences in Africa and Asia, and spotlighted the oppression of women and girls there.
They tell the stories of a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth, and many more soul-wrenching tales. Some stories had uplifting endings – that Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. But many of their stories ended in heartbreak, injury and death.
The book was turned into a film and now it is a movement addressing economic empowerment, education, forced prostitution, gender-based violence, maternal mortality and sex trafficking.
The Facebook game puts the user in a common situation in different regions. The first quest involves Radhika, a woman from India who needs money for medicine for her daughter, but can’t afford to take her to the doctor. The user must make decisions at each hurdle to help Radhika harvest her fruit, sell it, negotiate transportation and pay the doctor in order to secure help for her child.
Kristof and WuDunn’s hope is that by playing the game, users will gain an understanding of the hardships and decisions women and girls around the world have to face in developing countries, although at the beginning of the game, there is a cautionary note that while Radhika’s story is fiction, the reality is much harsher and the issues are never so easy to solve.
“Imagine the complexity of living on less than $2 a day when you can’t even leave home without a man’s permission. We do hope that playing this game will give you a glimpse into some of the real challenges that women face around the world.”
Users can buy (for actual money) items they need along the way, more energy and, at the end of a quest, they can make a real-world donation to one of Half the Sky’s NGO partners, The Fistula Foundation, GEMS, Heifer International, ONE, Room to Read, United Nations Foundation and World Vision. Eighty percent of the money collected in the game goes to its NGO partners, based on players’ selections and 20 percent goes to the NGO Games for Change and Tides Foundation to manage, host and sustain the game.
Kristof and WuDunn have told the stories in a book and showed them in a movie. Will a game be the medium to engage educate people? Perhaps if a younger audience plays and internalizes the stories, the next generation will be the one to implement change.