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Entertainment and Creative Media

Last edited: August 12, 2020

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Entertainment and creative media, whether through television, video, film, radio and live drama, allows a kind of engagement that other media such as news media does not provide. This medium is highly popular across age groups with the potential to reach mass inter-generational audiences. Like other media types, entertainment media (movies, shows, games, music, apps, books, magazines, etc.) often reinforces traditional gender roles and perpetuates negative gender stereotypes. Research that looked at gender roles in 120 films across ten of the most profitable film territories in the world found that women are not well represented, that casts are not well balanced; that women have much less speaking time on screen; and that they are often portrayed in stereotypical and sexualized ways (Geena Davis Institute, 2014). These depictions have a considerably negative impact on viewers, especially on young people who are heavily influenced by popular culture.

One stream of work within popular culture and entertainment is advocating for change as within any other industry to ensure more gender-equitable representations in the industries themselves as well as within the content that is produced to ensure non-discriminatory and non-violent depictions and messaging, while encouraging content that is female empowering, equitable and respectful of diversity. 


Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: 

Common Sense Media:

Another stream of work entails the identification of entry points to co-produce or develop programming with the express purpose of tackling negative social norms and advancing pro-social values, beliefs, attitudes and practices. Entertainment education, commonly referred to as “edutainment” has been a popular and ever-increasing entry point for achieving this. Over decades, evaluations have shown positive impacts of using edutainment to impact on social norms (Singhal, Arvind and Rogers, 1999; Airhihenbuwe and Obregon, 2000).  

Examples of edutainment span television, digital streaming, radio series and in-person theatre, using formats, such as games, public service announcements (PSAs) and dramas/soap operas/novelas. These portrayals allow the viewer/listener to see the causes and consequences of violence against girls and women through the context of individual characters and through their dilemmas, emotions and lives. They allow listeners/viewers to empathize and think about what they might have done in a similar situation. These formats, when well designed, can also help to undo stereotypes and myths related to gender, race, disability and other characteristics often used to discriminate against certain groups of people.


AdhaFULL (India)

A UNICEF and BBC Media Action project in India, AdhaFULL, aims at getting young people to examine social norms for girls and women which lead to sex-selective abortion, child marriage and restrictions on girls’ education. It is based around a 78-episode TV ‘whodunnit’ drama starring three young people.

The show is focused around Kitty, Tara and Adrak, three average teenagers who work together to solve cases and mysteries in their small town, while dealing with the trials of growing up.

The project seeks to encourage young people to challenge traditions that perpetuate gender stereotypes as well as increasing the ability of teenagers to take action to improve their lives. A radio discussion show Full-on-Nikki runs alongside the TV show, and new media is being mobilised to continue the conversation online, including Facebook and Twitter profiles, a smart-phone game, and audio content for mobiles, all based on study of the target audience’s media habits.

For more information, see:

As with any media production, the best drama/edutainment projects aimed at preventing VAWG will be produced when practitioners in the field of VAWG work in a well-established and trusting partnership with the media workers involved. This is also the best way to create long-term relationships and future collaboration, both of which are key to creating broad and sustainable change.


Soul City - South Africa and beyond

Soul City is one of the world’s longest running media programmes aimed at preventing VAWG. Running since the early 1990s, it has become a very popular national flagship show. It runs in seasons of 13 one-hour episodes which are accompanied by radio output, advertising and published materials. It has dealt with multiple VAWG issues, reaching millions of people in South Africa and beyond. It has been funded by Government, multilateral donors and corporates. It has been externally evaluated and it also publishes its own research on audience reach and impact on its website.

Using an edutainment strategy, all Soul City series are developed through a rigorous formative research process. This involves consulting both audiences and experts. All materials are thoroughly tested with audiences to ensure that the materials are effective. Through formative research, the lived experiences and voices of the communities are captured, giving the materials resonance and credibility. In Soul City’s process, the following steps are crucial to designing appropriate messaging:

  • Consulting widely with experts, audience members and key stakeholders on the topic issues. This includes government as well as civil society which include non-governmental and community-based organisations, activists, and academics.

  • Consulting audience members about what they know, their concerns, their attitudes to the issue and the barriers that exist to positive change.

  • After broadcast, the materials are evaluated. Lessons learned are integrated into future productions.

Soul City is a very significant series and has a long-term commitment to portraying and proactively tackling complex social issues including VAWG. Evaluations of the programme show a real change in willingness of VAWG victims/survivors to seek support and for relatives to support victims/survivors, alongside greater awareness of the availability of the national helpline. Those surveyed were more likely to recognise that domestic violence is serious, however, broader norms around its acceptability were less obviously shifted (Heise, 2011). These findings reinforce the success of reaching large audiences through this medium and the need for an accompanying strategy of direct community engagement to improve outcomes related to attitudes and behaviour change.

To learn more about the initiative see:

Depending on the type of production (e.g. a television show) can be costly and complex, making it challenging to persuade media houses to produce them. However, the success they have demonstrated has gone a long way in obtaining support from governments and donors.

Locating and approaching drama makers can be done in different ways. It is possible to have a good media idea but be unclear how to find the right media people to talk to. Who to approach depends to some extent on the scale of the intended intervention, and the way media is produced in the local context. Some questions to consider include: Is original drama made locally? Is there buy in? Is there an audience for online/streaming video? Are public service announcements a feasible and effective method? Does the target audience use mobile phones or are TV, radio or in-person mediums preferred?

There is not a single right way of making the first approach. Some ideas include:

  • Contacting a scriptwriter that may be able to provide an introduction to the media house.
  • Identifying a writer online and connect to them by talking about some of the work they recently produced and how it relates to the work that you want to do.
  • Seeking support early on from a TV company owner/director and/or Government as a key sponsor/partner.  This is especially important if the intent is to develop a significant media production or original TV drama.

Prior to making a first approach, read about other edutainment work and how it came about and which people made it happen. The case studies in this handbook provide a good starting point. Next, conduct research on entertainment media workers through some of the following methods:

  • Google drama makers’ recent and previous work
  • Check their work on Twitter and other social media
  • Look up any awards they have won or interviews they have given
  • Use media companies’ website descriptions of their productions and workers
  • Use Wikipedia and the arts and media trade press to find out who has made what and where they are working. It should however be noted that information about Global South media practitioners may not be readily available online or on Wikipedia


Girls Not Brides – Lessons from Edutainment

Girls Not Brides undertook a study to determine the value of Entertainment-Education initiatives in changing attitudes related to child marriage.  The study used desk research, key informant interviews and an assessment of undertakings in nine regionally diverse countries.  The main findings and lessons identified where:

  • Different channels allow social messages to be reinforced. The Entertainment-Education approach is usually and should be part of a larger behavioural change communication programme employing various strategies and formats. Projects often combine several formats and delivery channels. Choosing the edutainment format depends on various factors, such as the existing media market, the availability of different media in a specific region, the budget and the preference of the intended audience.
  • Individual, community and broader society need to be taken into account. Initiatives help to address social norms by starting conversations at the individual, community and broader societal level and targeting actors in the community such as girls, boys, parents, community members and leaders.
  • Using diverse characters/people to target specific audiences works well. By choosing different transitional role models, tailored approaches can be taken for a specific target group.
  • Initiatives must be based on a deep understanding of social norms, stigmas and misconceptions prevalent in the target community. Before an initiative starts, it is essential to find out more about the audience and to understand why people are doing what they are doing and who influences them.
  • Collaboration between substantive and technical experts is essential. Brainstorming with behaviour change professionals and creative professionals is the first step in the creative production and design workshop process.  This enables both tacit and explicit professional knowledge to be shared.
  • Investment must be made to measure progress and understand how change happens.
  • Edutainment is cost-effective in the long-run, offsetting the high initial costs.
  • It is important to be mindful of unintended and undesired consequences and be ready to respond and mitigate any harm.

To learn more about the initiative and the findings, see:

If feasibility or garnering buy-in is an issue, alternatives can be employed, such as independently producing through a streaming service or engaging through radio and/or community theatre.  

Community drama and popular theatre have been successfully employed in low-resource settings, where people may be able to access media as consumers but not as producers. Evidence has demonstrated the effectiveness of community drama in re-creating scenes from TV shows and movies inside the community to highlight different issues, including VAWG and gender inequality. These techniques are useful for linking social issues to media products and for creating community advocates who can lobby for change.

Arts in Action (Eastern Caribbean)

UN Women in partnership with the Bureau of Gender Affairs in Dominica, supported an applied arts training programme for theatre practitioners based on a model developed by Arts in Action (Department of Creative and Festival Arst of the University of West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago).  The training programme is a key strategy and intervention in UN Women’s social mobilization programme to prevent and respond to violence against women in the Eastern Caribbean.  The methodology highlights social issues through the performing arts allowing artists to express problems and negative behaviours in a way that their audiences can feel how these problems touch them personally.

For additional information, see:


Radio is another medium that has wide reach, especially in low and middle-income countries.  This outlet has often been used to address social norms change and radio partners are likely to remain important in media interventions preventing VAWG.  This is especially important for communities and populations whose access to information and self-expression are often marginalized from mass channels of communication.  More sharply focused, customized and essentially small and local media are crucial in giving voice to women and girls, making their views known on decisions that concern them. Community radio also provides an opportunity to share timely and relevant information on development issues, opportunities, experiences, life skills and public interests. In the age of multimedia and online communication, community radio can provide a bridge from local communities to the global information society and by sharing information and knowledge derived from the Internet in response to listeners requests and interests.

The Forum for Women Journalists for Gender Equality (Angola)

In Angola, the Forum for Women Journalists for Gender Equality (FWJGE), apart from providing gender-sensitive training for journalists, has also brought women journalists together, across news and entertainment sets, to create media work on gender equality and VAWG prevention. The group helped create the long-running radio drama Estrada da Vida ('Streets of Life') which focuses on tackling violence against women and girls and on the value of engagement in local politics. The programme combines media information and entertainment to foster public discussions about the realities of women’s lives and how they can improve. The main goal was to inform people about their rights, particularly as Angola was emerging from a period of war and harsh economic challenges. In this case, drama was considered the appropriate means to reach the whole population, as the language used in news broadcasting was considered too complex for this purpose. Using simple language communicated through relatable characters made the drama resonate with a vast audience.

For more information, see:

Worth 100 Men (Arab States)

“Worth 100 Men” is a radio fiction series in 30 episodes commissioned by the Womanity Foundation, which works on women’s empowerment using media. The series aimed at engaging audiences in the Arab States region in a constructive debate on women’s rights and gender roles, by providing information and reinforcing positive behaviours towards gender equality. Through a compelling and entertaining story line, the radio fiction depicts examples of common situations faced by Arab Women, namely as it relates to women’s social and economic empowerment, participation in public life, exposure to domestic violence and sexual harassment, family relationships and romance.

The series was broadcasted between March and September 2014, in 10 radio stations across the Arab world, namely Palestine, Egypt (on 3 stations), Morocco, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The broadcasting was followed by radio talk-shows focusing on issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, economic empowerment, and gender roles. The evaluation of the programme demonstrated the value of such facilitated discussions, as its participants were more likely afterwards to recognise abuse when they encountered it and encourage others who experience it to speak out, while they were less likely to express attitudes justifying violence. Long-term change still needs to be tracked to identify the full impact beyond the initial promising research findings.

For more information about the project:


Community Radio Handbook -

Community Media: A Good Practice Handbook -

How to Do Community Radio: A Primer for Community Radio Operators -

Creating an ongoing conversation along with the edutainment programme, through both other media formats and face-to-face engagement in the community, is the critical place for having these conversations about women and men and inequality and challenging stereotypes. This contributes to building an alternative vision, and helping the community see that others are moving and changing too.

Leh Wi Know/Let Us Know (Sierra Leone)

The complementarity of an edutainment-based project with additional media work and the essential community outreach was successfully demonstrated in Sierra Leone. From 2014-2016, BBC Media Action produced a regular, compelling 15-minute drama programme, ‘Bamba Community’, and followed each episode with a 45-minute phone-in, “Leh Wi Know” (Let Us Know) which explored an issue covered in the drama including domestic violence and women’s ownership of land. The phone-ins included guests who were experts on women’s rights and the law, so that callers could access advice on their situations as well as critically discuss social norms around gender.

There is no single radio station of large reach in Sierra Leone so BBC Media Action worked with many local radio partners in the country to deliver the programme. Local youth NGO Restless Development was enabled to use the planned programming to deliver community workshops to talk with teenage girls about their rights.

For more information, see:

Successful initiatives have demonstrated that bringing the characters and themes of the edutainment programme into peoples’ lives (through social media, social events, billboards, flyers and community interventions) has a significant impact in questioning existing norms and motivating victims/survivors of violence and harmful practices to “speak up” about their experience.

It also involves people hearing that other people are changing their minds, which is a decisive step towards social norms change. When individuals are exposed to a drama highlighting harmful practices or exploring different forms of power, control and abuse, they might think ‘yes but that is very unusual’ or ‘this has nothing to do with me’, but a radio phone-in scheduled directly following the segment might involve many people disclosing ‘that happened to me’.

Depending on the organisation’s capacity, some traditional media campaigning techniques can also be adopted to increase the impact of the edutainment project.

C’est la vie!: a pan-African educational TV Show

« C’est la vie! » is a unique inter-agency initiative (WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women), informed by best practices and supported by the French Muskoka Fund to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality. In 2016, the programme had over 20 million viewers in 7 African cities.

“C’est la vie”’ is articulated as: (i) An educational TV show (Season 1: 26 episodes of 26 minutes each / Season 2: 36 episodes) broadcasted on pan-African TV channels and a potential network of 40 national TV stations across Africa, (ii) A regional multiplatform campaign designed to tackle issues on reproductive health and rights, family planning, maternal and child health, quality of care, gender-based violence and to promote debates on these topics. The initiative was carried out through a radionovela (being piloted in Niger), radio and TV spots, TV and radio talk shows, mobile and web counselling, visuals and brochures, the internet and social media sites. Information websites keep visitors up-to-date and further develop the show’s main characters online, additional scenes and plots are published on social media and visitors are invited to share their opinions or to suggest new topics and storylines for the show.

Its communication campaign relies on intensive use of mass media and multiplatform media and an innovative public-private partnership in order to:

  1. Inform a wide audience across the African continent with a high cost/efficiency ratio, and

  2. Stimulate debate on social norms and personal behaviour, while questioning traditions and promoting positive social change. 

For more information, see: