The extraordinary women featured in "Half the Sky" include Somaly Mam, who was forced into the sex trafficking trade as a youngster in Cambodia and now, as an adult, has created a program to help rescue girls from the life she once endured.
Mam and others like her "underscore that this isn't just an issue of really depressing things happening around the world because, side-by-side with the worst of humanity, you encounter the very best," said Nicholas D. Kristof, whose bestselling 2009 book (co-written with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn), inspired the PBS series.
That's what Ryan, who visited Cambodia for the documentary, found in one brave child.
"This little girl had been kept in a barrel and let out to service a man, put back, let out again, and that's her life. She said, 'People say love is hard. I don't think so at all. I think hate is hard. Love is easy,'" the actress recounted.
Ferrera read the book by Kristof, a New York Times columnist, and WuDunn before she was approached for the PBS documentary. She found their work — which includes a "What You Can Do" chapter to encourage reader involvement — a testament to women's refusal to be victims.
"All around the world, women are the ones pulling themselves out of these situations. When I read 'Half theSky,' I would go from complete and utter rage to just smiling ear to ear," said the former "Ugly Betty" star.