THE BLOG
09/30/2014 06:19 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

2015: The Year of the Woman: Interview With Alisa Miller, President and CEO of Public Radio International.

Public Radio International commits to an 18-month long feature on the power of women to fuel economic development and improved medical care around the world.

2015 marks the 20-year celebration of the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing. At that conference, representatives from 189 governments hammered out the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was a blueprint for ensuring that women around the world would:

1. Have access to education,
2. Have equal pay for equal work,
3. Be protected from violence, and
4. Participate in decision-making.

How far have we come over the last two decades? What goals have been achieved, and what remains to be realized? 2015 will be a year where the United Nations, concerned citizens, non-government organizations and the media will dive into the details. It doesn't take a forensic researcher to see that there is still a lot of work to be done 0 -- with ISIS making the rules in areas of Iraq and Syria, and a 2012 assassination attempt on a schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, in Pakistan.

And that's where Public Radio International is stepping up their coverage to solutions journalism. On September 22, 2014 at the Clinton Global Initiative, PRI announced a new 18-month series, Across Women's Lives. According to Alisa Miller, the CEO and president of PRI, "Current coverage of women and girls is woefully inadequate."

Across Women's Lives will feature the stories of women from India and Africa, from all walks of life and ages, on PRI's The World program. Financial assistance will be provided by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with editorial contributions from Global Voices, All Africa and the BBC World Service. The focus will be on engagement, where listeners can produce their own mini-documentaries, learn more about the data and statistics presented in the story and even build action toolkits.

Can radio reach into the homes and hearts of women in remote regions, inspiring them to make meaningful improvements to their own lives and the community at large? This commitment is designed to test that idea.

I discussed this and more with Alisa Miller last week.

Natalie Pace: You've said that coverage of women and girls in the news media is "woefully inadequate." What do you hope to achieve with this commitment?

Alisa Miller: Across Women's Lives is an ambitious news initiative to increase knowledge about and deepen engagement around the resoundingly positive power of women in the world. Our hope is not only to reach millions of people with what we are doing, but also to put the topic of global women and girl's issues as part of what should be regularly covered within the broader news cycle. What happens to women and girls in society is often what happens to society in terms of success or failure.

NP: How will you vary the content and keep the series engaging over the course of 18 months?

AM: We're going to be exploring the status of women at various stages of life: birth and infancy, early childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, middle age and old age. We're using that as a lens to determine what the issues are and what they are facing depending upon their stage of life.

NP: Why did you choose Africa and India as your primary focus?

AM: We'll be focusing initially on storytelling from Africa and India, but our aim is to expand this over time. We want to make a global/local connection. We're interested in that cross-cultural conversation.

NP: This series has an ambitious goal to engage the listener to take action...

AM: We're interested in where journalism and engagement meet. We know that people are very motivated and learn things based upon our stories. We'll have ongoing multi-media storytelling, which will include radio, video, text and infographics. We're fascinated with mobile technology and how our phone makes it possible to engage, to get together, etc. based on the spark that we ignite, based on stories. We're interested in how people take action on stories, co-creating content with us. [We'll be] able to use partnerships to track when that's happening, so we can see that broader ripple effect.

NP: I love the generational approach. We often think about empowering women on the lower end of the scale. I've heard some compelling research and statistics from economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett. She says that in India, 11% of CEOs are women, whereas here in the United States it's only 3%. Her research indicates that has a lot to do with having multiple generations in the home. While the mother works in the executive suite, the grandparents cook the meals and provide the afterschool and home care. When you think of women in America being so stretched in terms of work/life balance, that kind of story might really resonate with women in the U.S.

AM: Absolutely. That's one of the things I'm excited about. Women in various regions of the world, and in different stages of life have so much in common. We face so many of the same issues. One of the ideas of this project is to build that empathy and connection. That can go in both directions. There's so much that we have in common.

NP: What are some of the things that women in the Western World have in common with women in India and Africa?

AM: One in three women in her lifetime will [experience] some sort of violence. That is universal. A billion people are affected by this, from a celebrity's wife to someone in a remote area of Africa, who is facing various forms of intimidation and violence because of her gender. When we see someone being hit in an elevator by a celebrity, this becomes a part of the topic of conversation. That's actually an important opportunity.

NP: Have you already run across some stories that you are interested in featuring?

AM: There's a gentleman here at CGI who is working on an effort to increase parental leave for men around the world. When men have that opportunity that allows for expansion for women, who can get up to 7% more on a monthly basis depending upon how long her partner is providing childcare. That's a really important part of the conversation, too.

NP: Are you worried about opposition? There are some parts of the world where society doesn't want women to have a voice, where change is outlawed and the consequences are dire.

AM: This is where the solutions journalism comes in as well, where we are showing things that are working, as well as things that don't. There is a misperception that change for women and girls cannot happen in a generation. In fact, it can. Because of that misperception, it holds back further progress or conversation because people feel it's hopeless.

NP: PRI has the ability to imbed data into these stories that should be hugely empowering to women in the developing world. There are so many myths and Stone Age beliefs that stand in the way of progress.

AM: Absolutely. Analysis and facts are so important. It's astonishing how little is known, given how much research, data and stories have been done. We believe that is due to the lack of frequency in the news cycle. We're hoping that with that frequency, that knowledge can grow.

NP: I do a lot of mentoring with schoolgirls in Kenya. Online access is always an issue. How are you going to get these stories heard in the rural regions of Africa and India, where they are most needed?

AM: We have BBC Calling, which is on the BBC World Service. I fully expect that a number of these stories will be selected over time to be on that program. That program reaches over 45 million people across the world. It's through radio, which is free and hugely powerful in these countries. We're hopeful that we'll be able to get past any barrier because of how it is being delivered.

NP: Is there anything else you wish to share?

AM: We'd love your feedback and your participation. We have a new special series on women's health and development. We have a big effort around women and science. We do a lot of interesting work about women in leadership around the world. Part of what makes our coverage great are the men and women who are interested in this topic and can add to the story. So, tune in and log on and all of that good stuff because we'd love to hear from you.

About PRI:
Public Radio International is creating a more informed, empathetic and connected world by sharing powerful stories, encouraging exploration, and connecting people and cultures. PRI's content is available on almost 900 public radio stations nationwide, at www.pri.org, and through podcasts and digital platforms.