East Africa: USAID Partnership Brings Mobile Games to Girls, Women

Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development has joined the nonprofit Games for Change to bring to women and girls in East Africa and India three mobile phone games that communicate messages about women's health, equality and empowerment.

"These new mobile games advance two of our most important priorities -- the promotion of gender equality and the use of science and innovation to accelerate development," said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

USAID awarded $1.4 million to the nonprofit to design the games with input from nongovernmental organizations that help women improve their lives and the lives of their families.

The games are designed to take advantage of the millions of low-end mobile phones being used in the developing world and are being distributed for free by NGOs and through mobile phone company stores under the umbrella of the Half the Sky Movement.

Sixty-five percent of mobile phones now in use are in developing countries, according to Half the Sky, a coalition of groups that formed around the 2009 best-selling book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The movement encourages solutions to problems such as sex trafficking, gender-based violence, maternal mortality, forced prostitution and girls dropping out of school by highlighting organizations that focus on education about those issues.

"[Games allow] the player to explore a situation from multiple perspectives or ignore it completely. This freedom can be invaluable if your game is dealing with social issues," according to game designer Blair Kuhlman.

These are the games designed for women and girls:

• Nine Minutes, which lets women and girls learn to keep a mother-to-be and unborn baby healthy and happy. In nine minutes, players experience the adventures of nine months of pregnancy. The game is also aimed at husbands and other men as secondary audiences.

• Worm Attack!, a visual game for children age 7 and older. Girls and boys are tasked with keeping healthy by using deworming pills to rid themselves and their communities of intestinal worms.

• Family Choices, an ongoing, interactive drama based on the users' narrative choices. The interaction enhances girls' perceptions of their value to their families and emphasizes staying in school instead of going to work or marrying early. Players decide whether "Anu" in India or "Mercy" in Kenya will achieve her dreams of someday becoming a financially independent nurse.

The games are available in English, Hindi and Kiswahili. Complementary short videos on related topics and a facilitator's manual are available to enhance community use of the games.

New York-based Games for Change curates more than 100 digital and nondigital games that engage users in various age groups in social issues such as human rights, poverty, the environment, public health and science, said Asi Burak, the organization's co-president.

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