Women’s Economic Empowerment
From Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide collection, lesson plan 4 of 5
Grade Levels: High School (grades 11-12), Community College, Youth Development Organizations
Time: 90 minutes or two 50-minute class periods + assignments
Subject Areas: Women’s Studies, Social Studies, Global Studies, Economics, Media Studies, Financial Literacy, English Language Arts
Purpose of the Lesson:
Women and girls play a vital role in the economic prosperity of their families, communities, and countries, yet in every part of the world, women often work longer hours than men, are paid less for their work, are at a higher risk of unemployment, and are far more likely to live in poverty.
A growing body of research shows that enhancing women and girls’ economic opportunities plays a critical role in reducing poverty as well as gender-based discrimination and violence, improving women and girls’ access to education and civic participation, and raising the quality of life for future generations. When women are in charge of their financial destinies, income, and capital — such as land and livestock — they gain more control over their own lives and personal security and as a result have greater access to decision-making and leadership roles in their homes and communities. Women are also consistently more likely to reinvest profits back into their families, which — in addition to improving their own children's nutrition, health, and education — contributes to the economic growth and security of their communities and countries.
This lesson will consider how and why women and girls are disproportionately affected by extreme poverty and will examine the ripple effects of women’s economic empowerment on individuals, families, communities, and societies.
- Consider the challenges associated with living in extreme poverty and develop a one-week budget for a family of three living on two dollars a day;
- Examine the relationship between gender and poverty and discuss the possible factors for and consequences of the substantial economic disparity between women and men;
- Identify the location of Kenya on a map and understand the social and political context of the economic challenges faced by the women in the film module;
- Consider the role that men and boys can play to improve economic independence for women and girls and how empowering women empowers men; and
- Understand the beneficial ripple effect of women’s economic empowerment on individual women, their families, their communities, and their countries.
Please note: Download teacher and student handouts in PDF format by clicking "Download lesson materials" at left
- Film module: Women’s Economic Empowerment in Kenya (10:41 minutes)
- LCD projector or DVD player
- Teacher handouts:
- Women’s Economic Empowerment Discussion Guide (Download Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide discussion guide PDFs from the Women and Girls Lead website)
- Student handouts:
- Student Handout A: Living on $2 a Day
- Student Handout B: Poverty and Gender
- Student Handout C: Kenya in Context
- Student Handout D: Film Module Screening Guide
- Student Handout E: Expert Fact Sheets
- Student Handout F: The Ripple Effect Worksheet
- Pens/pencils and writing paper
- Whiteboard/blackboard and markers/chalk
- Calculators (if available)
- Computers with internet access
- Wall map of the world with country names (free printable maps are available here)
Note for Teachers about the Lesson Plan Women’s Economic Empowerment and Its Contents:
This lesson and the accompanying film module from Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide illustrate a range of challenges facing women in a frank and honest manner, but the discussions and topics might not be suitable for all audiences. Teachers should prepare for the lesson by reading all the materials thoroughly and watching the complete film module to determine if this topic and lesson are appropriate for their class. Teachers should also brief students on what they will be viewing in advance and identify students who might be personally or adversely affected by this material. Prior to launching the lesson, please contact your school counselor or social worker to discuss policies and procedures for addressing a disclosure of violence or abuse and be prepared to provide students with support or the option of not participating in the lesson where appropriate.
For additional information about the documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, please download the free Women’s Economic Empowerment Discussion Guide from the Women and Girls Lead website, visit the official transmedia project website, and read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
Standards: This lesson aligns to key Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. For a full list of standards, please download the lesson materials above left.
Curriculum Writer: Allison Milewski
This curriculum is endorsed by the National Council for Social Studies. To learn more, visit socialstudies.org.
Time: 30 minutes
You will need: Student Handout A: Living on $2 a Day, Student Handout B: Poverty and Gender, Student Handout C: Kenya in Context, pens/pencils and writing paper, and calculators, if available
Goal: Students will consider the challenges associated with living in extreme poverty and develop a one-week budget for a family of three living on two dollars a day.
Part 1: Living on $2 a Day
- Hold up two dollars and ask students the following questions:
- If I told you that you had to feed yourself for a whole day using just two dollars, what would you spend it on? Discuss as a class and record feedback.
- If I told you that you had to feed your whole family for a day with just two dollars, how would you spend the money? Discuss as a class and record feedback.
- Share the following information with the class:
More than one-half of the world's people live below the internationally defined poverty line of less than U.S. $2 a day — including 97 percent of the population in Uganda, 80 percent in Nicaragua, 66 percent in Pakistan, and 47 percent in China.
- Divide the class into groups of two to three students and distribute Student Handout A: Living on $2 a Day. Ask them to use the information in the handout to develop a one-week budget for a family of three living on only two dollars per day. (Note: The costs included in the worksheet are adapted from Student Voices against Poverty: The Millennium Campaign Curriculum Project). Have them collaborate with their group to decide which items and expenses they should spend money on and which they would not be able to afford. (For example: Would they choose school fees over paying the electric bill? Would they put any money in their savings account?)
- When they complete their budgets, have them illustrate their results using a pie chart. They can create the charts using either their worksheets, large sheets of kraft paper and markers, or an interactive online tool such as the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Kids’ Zone “Create a Graph” tool.
- Discuss the groups’ results as a class, using the following discussion prompts:
- What surprised you most while completing this activity?
- What was the biggest challenge your team faced when making the budget?
- What was your biggest expense?
- Were there any “essentials” that you could not afford? What were they? What did you have to sacrifice?
- Were you able to put any money in your savings account?
- Were you able to pay for your children’s school fees?
- Would you be willing to ask your child to work instead of going to school to help support the family? How young is too young for a child to go to work if a family is trying to survive on two dollars per day?
- What do you think would happen if you or someone in your family got sick? What expenses would you cut to pay for their medical bills?
- How did it make you feel, knowing that you could not provide all of the needed resources for your family?
Part 2: Global Poverty and Gender
- Introduce the following information:
Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women and girls. Although women play a vital role in the economic prosperity of their families, communities, and countries, in every part of the world, women work longer hours than men, are paid less for their work, are at a higher risk of unemployment, and are far more likely to live in poverty.
- Divide the class into groups of four students and assign each student in each group a number from one to four (this is commonly known as the “numbered heads together” activity).
- Distribute Student Handout B: Poverty and Gender to each group and have them review the fact sheet and respond to what they have read by discussing the questions that are provided.
- When the discussion is complete, call out a number from one to four and have the student from each team who was assigned that number present their group’s results to the class. (This will help ensure that all of the students are actively involved in the activity.)
Part 3: Kenya in Context
- In preparation for viewing the film module, ask a volunteer to locate Kenya on the wall map.
- Provide students with the fact sheet Student Handout C: Kenya in Context. Have them read the fact sheet and discuss briefly with a partner.
- Variation: This handout can be provided in advance of the lesson for students to review as homework.
VIEWING THE FILM MODULE
Class time: 10-15 minutes
You will need: Pens/pencils and writing paper, LCD projector or DVD player, the Women’s Economic Empowerment in Kenya film module, and Student Handout D: Film Module Screening Guide
- Distribute Student Handout D: Film Module Screening Guide and instruct students to take notes during the screening using the worksheet as a guide.
- Variation: The questions from Student Handout D can be projected or written on the board and reviewed briefly before viewing the film module to save paper.
Time: 50 minutes
You will need: Student Handout E: Expert Fact Sheets, Student Handout F: The Ripple Effect Worksheet, pens/pencils and writing paper, and computers with internet access, if available
Goal: Students will discuss the film modules and share their notes. Students will work in groups to research and understand effects of economic empowerment of women on the individual level, the family level, the community level, and the national level. They will use their collective research to create a written and/or visual narrative illustrating the ripple effect of empowering a single woman.
Part 1: Postscreening Discussion Questions
- What did you think of the film? Was there anything that surprised you?
- What were some of the economic challenges that the women faced?
- What were some of the unsuccessful and successful strategies for women’s economic empowerment that the film highlighted?
- Ingrid Munro says that in order to “get people out of poverty you need to deal with every aspect of their life.” What does she mean by this? Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
- While walking through the market, the women from Jamii Bora tell Nicholas Kristof and Olivia Wilde that “the men buy the sodas, the women buy the milk.” Why is this exchange so significant? What does it reveal about the financial dynamics of Kenyan families?
- What role do men have to play in women’s economic empowerment? How does empowering women improve quality of life for men?
- When we read about problems in communities, our minds tend to go immediately to aid programs and aid organizations, but what about business as a solution? What are the benefits and pitfalls of social entrepreneurship in comparison to traditional aid?
- Many economists and development experts believe that the social-entrepreneurship model highlighted in the film ignores the bigger social and institutional issues such as discrimination, corruption, and corporate greed that are the actual roots of extreme poverty and places too large a burden on the individual. Do you think the entrepreneur approach is unfair to individual women by making them responsible for overcoming the failings of their society? What are some other strategies shown in the film that help to improve the economic security of women and their families?
- All of the strategies that were highlighted in the film show women working with others to overcome the economic challenges and barriers that they face. What benefit is there in facing individual economic challenges in collaboration with one’s peers and community? Is this an approach that could be used in our communities?
- How did the lives of the women change when they became financially independent?
- How can women’s economic independence break the cycle of poverty?
- What role has the issue of women’s economic empowerment played in your life? Were there different economic expectations for girls and boys in your community or family? Were you expected to be financially independent when you grew up? How did your experience compare to that of the women in the film?
Part 2: Women’s Economic Empowerment Jigsaw
- Divide the class into groups of four students each and explain that they will work in groups to research and understand effects of economic empowerment of women on the individual level, the family level, the community level, and the national level. They will use their collective research to create a written and/or visual narrative illustrating the ripple effect of empowering a single woman.
- Jigsaw Activity: From the following list, assign each student in the group an “Area of Expertise” about the impact of women’s economic empowerment on various entities:
- An individual woman
- Her family
- Her community
- Her society
- Ask the “experts” from each group to work together to research their topic. Distribute Student Handout E: Expert Fact Sheet to each group and ask students to supplement their research with online sources. The following websites can be used as resources:
- The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) report on women’s economic empowerment
- The “Women, Poverty & Economics” section of the UN Women website
- The “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” section of the USAID website
- When the research is complete ask the “experts” to return to their original groups and share their findings.
- Distribute Student Handout F: The Ripple Effect Worksheet to each group and ask them to read the brief paragraph describing extreme poverty in the United States.
- Instruct them to imagine that they are working with Jamii Bora and have been assigned to help improve economic empowerment for women in their local community. Have the groups complete the worksheet using their research and expertise.
- Finally, have students use what they have learned to develop a brief written and/or visual narrative illustrating the ripple effect of providing economic empowerment to women in their community. The following websites provide resources that can be used to create infographics and visual representations of their research:
- The groups should display their results and discuss with the class:
- Why is women’s economic empowerment an important issue?
- How does women’s economic empowerment empower men and boys as well? What role can men play in improving the economic independence of women?
- How can women’s economic independence help break the cycle of poverty?
Select one or more of the following assignments to complete the lesson:
Assignment 1. Women’s economic empowerment in our community.
Ask students to work alone or in groups to research services and organizations that provide support to women and girls in their communities and consider the impact that gender and factors such as race, religion, and class play in the economic security of an individual and of a family.
- Students should use their strategies from the postscreening activity as a guide and incorporate resources and organizations in the area that provide support and services.
- They can also contact organizations in their communities that provide entrepreneurship support for low-income women who want to start their own businesses.
- If possible, they should interview one of an organization’s clients to discuss the benefits and challenges of entrepreneurship and develop a profile of their subject or the organization.
- Students can present their completed projects to their school community and can also reach out to their local city council to discuss their project and their findings. This website can help you contact your local elected officials.
- Multimedia presentation resources:
- Guide to Oral History
- Story Corps for Educators
- Zentation.com - Combine videos, slides, and audio into presentations
- Voicethread.com - Video, audio, and slide editing program
- Vcasmo.com - Easy to use multimedia presentation tool.
- Voiceover script writing
Assignment 2. Journaling Exercise: How would you live on less than $2 a day?
As we have seen, extreme poverty is not something that only exists in developing countries; nearly 1.5 million Americans are living on less than two dollars per day. Ask students to imagine that they are one of these 1.5 million Americans and have them do a series of short diary entries using a social media site such as Tumblr describing a week in their life. Have them consider what life would be like if they had to survive with extremely limited resources and then write their journal entries using the following questions as a guide:
- What would your biggest challenges be each day?
- What would you have to sacrifice?
- What would you spend your money on or save up for?
- Would you continue to come to school? If so, how would your limited resources shape your experience? If not, what would you use your time for instead?
- What impact would living on two dollars a day have on your expectations for your future?
Activity 1: This Land is My Land (Too)
Studies show when women have secure rights to their land, their family nutrition and health improve, they may be less likely to be victims of domestic violence, and their children are more likely to receive an education and stay in school longer. Despite this, women around the world are struggling to gain the right to own their own land. Have students research the importance of land rights in ensuring women’s economic empowerment.
- Instruct students to work in groups to research the status of land rights around the world, and identify countries where women are struggling to own their own land. Have them also identify countries that have improved women’s access to land rights in the past 20 years.
- Have each group select one country that lacks adequate land rights and one country where women’s rights recently improved and compare the status of women and their quality of life in each country.
- What impact has owning/not owning land had on women’s lives and the lives of their families?
- How have women’s lives changed since they began owning their own land?
- Has the introduction of land rights for women had an impact at the community or national level?
- Students can use the following websites for research and information and should complete their projects by creating multimedia presentations of their research using Prezi.
Activity 2: Small Loans, Big Debates
Microfinance was once believed to be a key strategy in poverty alleviation, but in recent years, questions about its broad effectiveness beyond individual success stories, along with a series of scandals – including reported suicides among indebted borrowers in Andhra Pradesh, India – have overshadowed stories of small loans helping pull women out of poverty. The debate has been characterized by extreme claims on both sides, but what is the bottom line on microfinance?
- Screen the complete segment from the film on Women’s Economic Empowerment and have students consider why microfinance has been moderately effective in some countries but not at all in others.
- Ask students to share their feedback and what they think about the debate about microfinance.
- Have students work individually or in groups and research the issue. What are the main points of those who support microfinance? What are the main points of those who are against it?
- Assign each student/group one side of the debate to research in detail. Following their research, have students engage in a formal debate about the issue. Education World offers a selection of debate resources that provide guidelines and rules for classroom debates.
- Resources on this topic can be found at the following websites:
Activity 3: Millennium Development Goals: Empowering Women Empowers the World
In September 2000, the United Nations signed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with the aim of halving the number of people living in poverty, reducing maternal and child mortality, fighting disease, and improving social and economic conditions in the world's poorest countries by 2015. Have your class screen the complete series of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and examine the connection between the issues addressed in the documentary and the Millennium Campaign’s focus on women. Have them consider how and why improving rights and resources for women and girls is considered key to eradicating global poverty.
- Divide the class into eight groups, assign each an MDG, and instruct the groups to develop a “We Are the Goal” presentation, which should include the following:
- A summary of the MDG and the campaign’s strategies for improving social and economic conditions for women
- Information on the public perception and understanding of the MDGs; students can investigate the public’s knowledge and understanding of the Millennium Campaign by recording “person-on-the-street” interviews and including the footage in the presentation
- Examples of specific programs that have been implemented and their impact to date
- How the campaign relates to issues in the students’ own communities
- A plan of action for the group and the school community to contribute to the Millennium Campaign
- The presentations should be multimedia and can include photo-essays, video footage, audio clips, animations, and infographics, using the following websites as resources:
- Information and resources for research on the MDGs can be found at:
Activity 4: Kick-Start a Conversation.
Women's World Banking (WWB) is a global network of 39 financial organizations from 27 countries and the only microfinance network with an explicit focus on women. Have your students visit the WWB website to learn how they can host an event at their school or in their community to kick-start the conversation about women’s economic empowerment and find out how they can work with WWB to make a difference. The website provides complete details for planning events and a multimedia tool kit to help bring the issue to life for your community.
Activity 5: Connect with Communities.
Kiva is a grassroots nonprofit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Kiva relies heavily on its team of committed volunteers and offers a range of opportunities to get involved, including the Kiva Translation Program and the Kiva Fellows Program, which has offered over four hundred individuals an opportunity to put their skills to work in support of global microfinance. Visit Kiva’s website for more information.
Please note: Download teacher and student handouts in PDF format by clicking "Download lesson materials" at left
Kristof, N., and S. WuDunn. 2009. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide: Filmed in 10 countries, this film follows Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, and celebrity activists America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde on a journey to tell the stories of inspiring, courageous individuals. Across the globe, oppression is being confronted, and real, meaningful solutions are being fashioned through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls. The linked problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality — which needlessly claim one woman every 90 seconds — present to us the single most vital opportunity of our time: the opportunity to make a change. All over the world, women are seizing this opportunity. Visit the website at halftheskymovement.org.
Women and Girls Lead film series: Women and Girls Lead offers a collection of films by prominent independent filmmakers. These films focus on women who are working to transform their lives, their communities, and the world. Visit the website to learn more about the films and explore our diverse catalogue of educator resources, lesson plans, and film modules. See womenandgirlslead.org for more details.
halftheskymovement.org: The official website for the Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide film, book and movement.
Women and Girls Lead website: Women and Girls Lead is an innovative public media campaign designed to celebrate, educate, and activate women, girls, and their allies across the globe to address the challenges of the 21st century.
Jamii Bora: works to strengthen and utilize all the skills, determination, and hard work of the people of Kenya to build a better nation through better families.
The Umoja Uaso Women’s Group in Kenya: a refuge for victims of domestic abuse where women support themselves and their families through the sale of traditional crafts and promote human rights, economic empowerment, and the preservation of indigenous art.
Women's World Banking (WWB): a global network of 39 financial organizations from 27 countries and the only microfinance network with an explicit focus on women.
The Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA): works through local partnerships to give women tools to improve their lives, families, and communities. CEDPA’s programs increase educational opportunities for girls, ensure access to lifesaving reproductive health and HIV/AIDS information and services, and strengthen good governance and women’s leadership in their nations.
Girls Inc.: inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold through life-changing programs and experiences that help girls navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.
The Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights: recognizes that the lack of secure land rights is a root cause of global poverty. Their land law and policy experts help poor countries develop and implement land laws, policies, and programs that provide ladders out of poverty for their citizens and promote long-term economic growth.
Kiva: a grassroots nonprofit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.
The Campaign for Female Education (Camfed USA): fights poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa by educating girls and empowering women to become leaders of change.
The Girl Effect: a collective movement to lift 50 million women and girls out of poverty by 2030 through the education and empowerment of girls.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF): mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to advocate for the protection of children's rights, to help meet children’s basic needs, and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.
Women for Women International: “provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies. We're changing the world one woman at a time.”
Women’s Economic Empowerment in Kenya