Every once in a while a book or a movie opens our eyes to things we haven’t thought much of before, things that really matter. Last night I had such an experience when I went to a screening of a new documentary called “Girl Rising.” In it we see and hear nine heartbreaking stories of young girls living in developing countries around the world. What was stunning is that these girls desire something many of us take for granted, something many kids even resist: the right to go to school. “Girl Rising” is a wake-up call that education for all children is not the automatic freedom our kids receive.
The stories unfold like chapters — we visit Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru and Sierra Leone and see in each girl’s story a different side to the same problem. Going to school gives the highest returns on so many levels — economically, physically, culturally — yet millions of girls are forbidden to go. In fact, 33 million less girls than boys go to primary school around the world simply because of their gender.
I was flabbergasted to hear this because, if anything, girls are ahead of boys academically here in the United States. More girls are enrolled in college; I’ve even complained that teachers downright favor girls here. Yet as far as equal rights for girls and women have come in America, “Girl Rising” is a stunning revelation that girls are modern day slaves in much of the developing world.
The reasons for this are complex.
Yasmin from Egypt’s story sheds light on the problem of child brides that are still so common around the world. Millions of parents would rather marry off their young daughters, some as young as 7 years old, than risk them being raped. This is also a reason why many parents keep girls home entirely, which means no school. These girls then have children before their bodies are mature, causing death by childbirth to be the leading cause of death for girls 15-19 years old in developing countries. And so the ugly cycle continues.
If not outright banned, education is a commodity in many countries — available to only the highest bidders. We see this in 7-year-old Wadley’s story from Haiti.
Stories like Wadley’s also offer hope. She risks humiliation just for the chance to listen to a teacher in an outdoor, makeshift classroom. Her desire to learn and her perseverance and bravery are as big as her smile. Other uplifting messages are also shown through the various stories — like how finding a passion (poetry, music, drawing) carries some of these girls through their darkest days. Through the kindnesses of several men we also see that not all of the men in these countries want to oppress women and girls.
The “Rising” in the title is a metaphor; these girls cannot be ignored.
The only way to see this film for now is to arrange a screening. The one I went to was full of friends of Intel, a sponsor of the film.
The movie is PG-13, for the intense subject matter. Older children, boys and girls, will get a lot out of it.
When we left, my two friends and I discussed how good it would be for American kids to see this movie just to realize how lucky they are to have the right to a free, public education. Not that our system is perfect by any means, but children would be shocked to see what other kids their age are going through today.
This movie also made me want to see more respect in our school system on many levels, starting with education being looked at as more important than the idol many families worship: sports.
I urge you to find a screening of “Girl Rising” near you, or to arrange one visit girlrising.com.