Yegna Gripping the Attention of Millions and Teaching Lessons Along the Way
Although television channels and networks are proliferating in the country, finding entertainment for young adults remains a difficult job. Programming aimed specifically at teenagers is virtually non-existent with one exception - Yegna.
Yegna is the largest television show and radio program targeted at a young adult audience with over 9 million viewers over the age of 15.
First started as a radio program then piloted in Addis Ababa and the Amhara region, Yegna became a national TV show three years ago. As the number of TV shows and stations began to grow in the last 3 years, Yegna decided to cater to a larger audience and specifically create content focused on reaching adolescent girls.
“Although things are changing for the better when it comes to girls' situations in Ethiopia, we still have a long way to go,” says Liya Hailu, Country Head of Girl Effect, the non-profit behind Yegna, citing that nearly a third of women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence in Ethiopia, 40% of girls are married as children, and 75% of secondary school age girls do not attend secondary school.
“The intended goal of Yegna: Challenging the way people think about girls and girls think about themselves, Yegna is creating a new progressive narrative for Ethiopia. Yegna tackles complex issues facing girls through its TV series, talk show, digital channels and music - issues from violence, barriers to education, open and honest conversation between parents and adolescents and health issues including vaccination,” says Liya.
Girl Effect launched in 2004 by the Nike Foundation and its partners on the premise that the most effective way to break the cycle of global poverty is to improve the situation of adolescent girls. The NGO is in operation in several African countries including Nigeria, Rwanda, Malawi, creating youth brands and mobile platforms that are intended to empower girls. Girl Effect began operations in Ethiopia in 2012 with the launch of Yegna.
“Girl Effect uses the power of media and brands to tackle multiple issues all contextual to the culture and people of the specific country,” says Liya. “A common principle for all our platforms is that it should be created with girls' input. In all our geographies, the content is different and contextually designed for the specific audience. All our brands are based on research with girls before being launched. Yegna was no different. We spoke to 2000 girls before coming up with the brand Yegna in 2014. Since then we have done multiple researches with girls that enable us to keep up with adolescent challenges and needs. We cater to a very specific audience and we always make sure that our script, our content design and approach is always with that target audience in mind.”
The TV series has explored a variety of subjects pertaining to adolescent female issues such as menstrual health management, rape, and gender equality. The second and third seasons notably addressed HPV and cervical cancer, resulting in a more informed audience.
Currently in its fourth season, the program is broadcast on three national TV channels in three languages - Kana TV in Amharic and ETV languages in Oromifa and Tigrigna. The Amharic content is also available on the MOE channel and the content is used in group discussions in rural school programs in 28 schools across the country in collaboration with UNICEF. The program is also available for free on YouTube.
“The fourth season deals with topics ranging from nutrition for adolescents & young expecting mothers, migrant returnees, the importance of exploring the multiple career paths for the future all wrapped up in fun exciting teenage stories that we can all relate to. Girls tell us they watch their lives on the screen through Yegna because that's what we try to portray to them along with solutions to their issues and roadmaps of things to think about at that stage in your life.” says Liya.
“The numbers we are most excited about are the impact data which shows that viewers of the drama are over 2 x more likely to be aware of the HPV vaccine (a topic raised in the series), viewers of the drama are 30% more likely to understand key facts about the HPV vaccine, for example, it prevents cervical cancer and does not have negative side-effects,” she explains.
The necessity of a show like Yegna cannot be undermined. In a movie recently shown on the popular channel EBS, a female character makes a kissing sound as she greets a person and man observing this comments that he’s only likely to induce her to make such a sound if he were to slap her. This throwaway comment that came apropos of nothing in a film that does not address the violence inherent to that statement is common in popular culture. Gendered abuse and violence is so normalized one can find it casually flipping through television channels. “I learned that the things that occur to us like sexual assault and which we hide can cause us harm. It also shows how we should talk about the violence we encounter at home,” says a girl (13-14), as part of Girl Effect’s research into the impact of Yegna.
It’s easy to imagine how instances like this that can appear commonplace when not given the platform for real investigation. Without the context and vocabulary to understand iterations of gender and sexual abuse they are likely to witness or experience in their lives, misogyny can be internalized. The susceptibility of young brains to mirror and propagate certain behaviors and beliefs can be dangerous if it’s not counterbalanced with information that embraces gender equality.
Although there is a fair amount of lessons in Yegna, the relatable characters and careful plots are entertaining enough to grip audiences. The friendship between the main characters is an important element of the storytelling that has kept the attention of many. “All of the viewers reported an impact from watching the TV drama e.g. learned something new, prompted them to discuss or look up a new topic. Our retention is very high at 90% of viewers watching the Yegna series weekly or fortnightly,” explains Liya.
Looking at characters grow and evolve with each season and observing how the show tackles sensitive subjects with great care has meant one it has garnered adult followers as well. YouTube episodes of Yegna have over 10 million viewers, it is especially popular with Ethiopians residing in Middle Eastern countries.
With well thought out programming and impressive production, Yegna continues to capture the attention of millions, eager to see where the show takes the 7 main characters, all the while shaping the future generation of young Ethiopians.