Girls + Education = Power

“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” – Malala Yousafzai.

Girl rising is a global campaign that sheds light on the importance of girls’ education and empowerment. Girl Rising uses the power of storytelling mainly through film and social media. In 2013, the Academy Award-nominated director Richard Robbins undertook the challenge of portraying nine girls’ challenges in the developing world, as they dream of nothing more than receiving a fundamental education.

girl rising

Each of the nine stories has been penned by nine eminent writers from each of the countries illustrated in the film. The girls primarily act as themselves, but their words are predominantly voiced by female international icons such as Anne Hathaway, Frieda Pinto and Meryl Streep to mention three of them.

All nine stories emphasize the vital role of education. The amount of opportunities and increasing courage that arises once a basic education becomes a part of their lives is heavily accentuated. Furthermore, besides the film’s ostensible focus, which is girls’ education, the film tackles several major social issues such as underage marriage, child slavery, poverty and bonded and adolescent labour. The film mainly portrays men in a negative light, but you also see an effort to show positive male figures, such as caring and protecting fathers and brothers.

Something I found deeply interesting was that between each segment, a series of brightly dressed girls of all ages and ethnicities stepped out to hit us with a series of gut-wrenching facts and statistics (though unsourced) about the disproportionate number of girls living under injustice, discrimination, preferential treatment, cultural paradigms, and inequality. The girls do not speak themselves, as the famous Hollywood actor Liam Neeson does the narrating. “Girl Rising” is all about the empowering girls, and there might have been a purpose of getting a male voice to narrate the negatives, but I believe having the girls speak would have given the facts a much more emotional and credible voice as it is all about the girls.

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that the language, imagery, details, and the chronological construction of the stories are beyond what the children included in the movie are capable of in their age. The story is more likely to be “based on” true stories rather than the raw, pure truth. Though the movie is somewhat fictional both visually and audibly, the realism is clear all the way from start to finish, which I found profoundly interesting.

The Kabul-born journalist and author Zarghuna Karga tells the common yet unsettling tale of a girl named Amina (whose name and identity was changed out of concern for her safety); born and raised in the war-conflicted area of Afghanistan. Rapidly we get the mood of her story; a girl unworthy of documents stating her birth, and with a mother crying her heart out as she learned the gender of her new-born child. Throughout her entire life, Amina is confined by her gender and expected to serve the men. Amina is only 11 when her hand is given away to her much older cousin, while her older brother gets her dowry money to buy a used car. Amina is called “lucky” as she gives birth to a healthy boy without complications in a country where the odds of surviving a delivery is inferior to not surviving.

 

CNN Films: Girl Rising Amina portrait. Film still

I chose to highlight Amina’s story in my blog entry, because amongst the nine stories her story was the one that struck me the most. I believe the biggest impression her story made on me, came from me being unable to process the unimaginable situations she is faced with, because Amina’s reality is so distant for someone as privileged as me. To have a girl only having reached puberty, going through the trauma of forced marriage and child-labour is beyond imaginable. Somehow, Amina manages to think confidently and somewhat positively, despite her continuous inhumane experiences, which is something I hugely respect and admire. Amina was able to speak up as a result of her courage and strength, proving that “One girl with courage is a revolution”. The catchphrase is short yet descriptive, making it catchier and more memorable. Currently, there are more girls attending school than ever in Afghanistan, and it is likely that the positive progress will continue to grow, proving that it only takes one girl with enough courage for improvement to take place. Uninterruptedly we see more girls like Amina; girls with courage, girls who will make a change.

  • Unfortunately, the Girl Rising campaign was unable to remain in contact with Amina, as further updates could endanger her safety and the very work of the organization.

Girl rising is set to leave an impression, one way or another. The statistics are somewhat familiar, but they still alarm you as you come face to face with the numbers. I knew from before that the number of girls in the danger zone of sexual assault were immense, but to hear that “In a single year, an estimated 150 million girls are victims of sexual violence” and “50% of all sexual assaults in the world are on girls under 15”, was shocking. For someone who is unaware of the extent of this issue, these statistics can be extremely eye-opening. We sometimes see news on television and on social media floating around concerning sexual assault, but to think of the millions of silenced girls currently being held down against their will, without anyone knowing, is devastating. Statistics such as those previously mentioned, are pinpoints in the movie I believe will stick with people. Nothing comes close to the movie on showing me the power education has and will have.

After the movie, I was left with a lot of guilt; guilt because I take having education as a right for granted, guilt because I do not appreciate the rights and values I have as an individual, and guilt because I have such a good life. Yet, I still find microscopic issues to complain about. As well as guilt, I also felt sympathy for the girls. I could acknowledge the pain, and feel sorry for their situations even though I have never been, and hopefully never will be, faced with the same gruesome experiences that they have.

  • “Girl Rising” is a very informing, eye-opening, and important movie, but it does contain graphic illustrations and details that can be triggering. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the powerful scenes you will encounter, and maybe be prepared to take some time off if the scenes affect you too heavily.

For someone who are not familiar with the importance of education, this film is a revelation. Seeing and hearing real experiences will not only give us a human face to the otherwise so distant issue, but it will also help us put ourselves in the shoes of others so we can help build a bridge of empathy in a world that desperately needs the engagement and compassion we have to offer. Without the bravery of the filmmakers, we would know very little about these challenges and problems that girls are suffering under. Docufilms like “Girl Rising” holds up a mirror to our society and holds our conscience to account. Seeing the power of education being visually recorded, holds a greater power to move minds than the spoken word and will inspire change.

It goes without saying that I would recommend this movie. Your heart will ache, but the ray of optimism and light is set to ignite a fire in you. We all owe it to the future of the world to ensure that all girls find the courage and motivation to rise above the hardships. Emphasizing the issue and informing others as well as supporting this cause in whatever way we can is vital, because with enough courage and support change is possible.

Sources used to write this blog entry:

 

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