Power in Numbers Description

#GETREEL runs from September 12 – October 24, 2017. Each week features important elements to PMC’s work to empower women and girls. If a specific theme speaks to you or those in your network, please use it at any point during the campaign.

Week Three: Power in Numbers
(September 26 – October 3, 2017)

Video: Power in Numbers (Coming Soon!)


Bullet Summary:

  • Tipping points are common in the natural world (we hear a lot about the danger of a climate tipping point these days). But human societies also experience tipping points, and they can actually be a force for good.
  • Population Media Center is focused on catalyzing tipping points, especially on social norms related to women and girls: early and forced marriage, taboos around modern contraception, and gender-based social discrimination.
  • PMC dramas are uniquely positioned to reach across the spectrum of class, gender, education, and other cultural strata – reaching individuals with social change messaging, and thereby building a critical mass of change agents in that society.
  • When a large number of community members rapidly and dramatically change their attitudes and behavior – by either adopting a once rare practice or abstaining from a previously common one – that is social norm change.
  • Tipping points require catalysts – household and community discussion of issues dealt with in PMC’s dramas often serve as those catalysts. The dramas themselves, the epilogues after each episode, and radio call-in shows – all can serve to spark community reflection.
  • See listener letter from Ethiopia below to provide a tactile example of PMC induced social norm change.


Power in Numbers:

The natural world is filled with tipping points. Also called “threshold effects” or “critical transitions,” a tipping point is when a natural system experiences a shift to a dramatically new state. For a simple example, think of frozen winter lake. As spring takes hold, the edges of the water begin to thaw slightly, but the vast majority of the ice seems determined to stay frozen – even on very warm days. Suddenly though, perhaps after a gentle rain, the sheet disappears in a single afternoon. Like a chain reaction, the water molecules in the ice have passed a tipping point, all now moving rapidly to a liquid state.

Tipping points can also occur in human communities, especially around social norms. When a large number of community members rapidly and dramatically change their attitudes and behavior – by either adopting a once rare practice or abstaining from a previously common one – we can say that community has experienced a social norm change. Importantly, when social norms change the individual behavior change becomes long-lasting. The change becomes self-perpetuating; it’s held in place and continually encouraged by reciprocal expectations between community members.

Population Media Center is focused on catalyzing tipping points in the communities where we air entertaining dramas. On supremely sensitive issues, like early and forced marriage, taboos around modern contraception, and gender based social discrimination, our patient and determined approach can act like the spring rains. Rather than awkward billboards, ignored public service announcements, or door-to-door campaigns with many slammed doors, our highly entertaining programs are welcomed by community members. As ever more numbers of people emotionally bond with leading characters in our stories, and see these characters role-modeling pro-social behaviors, momentum builds toward a dramatic change in social norms.

In the Oromiya Region of Ethiopia, PMC’s hugely successful radio drama Yeken Kignit (“Looking Over One’s Daily Life”) catalyzed a tipping point on the issue of marriage by abduction. Below is an excerpt of one of the over 15,000 listener letters PMC’s Ethiopia office received while the drama was broadcast:

“The story of Wubalem in your radio drama reflects clearly to the general public the harmful traditional practices in our country such as abduction and sexual violence… Our first child was married at the age of 14 after she was abducted [on her way to school]. We were worrying for years as we thought that our second child would face a similar fate. At present, however, the radio drama focusing on abduction and sexual violence that you have presented to the public, and the discussions conducted on these topics, have aroused considerable popular indignation. The people have now strongly condemned such inhuman traditional practices… Unlike in the past, special punitive measures have been taken by community people against offenders involved in such crimes. As a result, we have no worry in sending our girls to school. Our children go to school safely and return unharmed. Please keep the program on the air.”

In this case, PMC’s fictional story, broadcast to an entire region of Ethiopia, ignited community discussions on the issue of marriage by abduction. More and more people reflected on the practice and realized the great harm being done to innocent girls. Suddenly, a social tipping point was passed. The power in numbers – the critical mass of people rejecting marriage by abduction – changed what was normal for that soceity. PMC’s fictional drama was the catalyst for their actions.

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