“The bright white shirt of a school uniform. The crisp pleats of a skirt. Shelves full of books. A dream of school.” The documentary Girl Rising illuminates the fight for the education of girls in developing countries. The stories of girls like Wadley, Suma, Azmera, Amina, and many others show the perseverance that endures in spite of overwhelming circumstances. These girls exist in countries where their sex has predetermined their future. In order to access an education, they must fight against cultural norms to show the world that educating a girl is one of the best investments the world can make.
Girl Rising begins with the story of Wadley, an eight year-old from Port au Prince, Haiti. Wadley attended school regularly until January 12, 2010. The earthquake that hit Haiti that day left her village and many others in ruins. For Wadley, this meant there was no longer money to attend school. Wandering through the remains of her village, she saw a makeshift classroom where her former classmates (the ones whose families could still afford an education), had gathered for school. Wadley sat among her classmates, ready to learn. In spite of being told to leave, Wadley came back every day and insisted on learning.
Girls who go to school see benefits beyond education. It can mean safety, a healthier life, and a sense of community. Every year of education a girl receives increases her future earning power by 10 to 20 percent. Girls who receive an education are more likely to marry later, have fewer children and as a result, less complications from childbirth. Every year, 287,000 women die in childbirth. For Wadley, insisting on an education is a conscious decision to lead a better life.
The story of Suma, from Bardiya, Nepal tells of a girl whose life did not see the benefits of education until much later. At the age of six, Suma was sold as a Kamlari. She was bonded to a master in exchange for labor in order to have food and a place to sleep. The first master she was bonded to made her work taking care of children, cleaning, fetching firewood etc. from four in the morning until late at night. The second master Suma was bonded to forced her to sleep in the goat shed and wear rags. By the time she was 11 years old, she was sold to her third master. Suma’s life changed when she began to receive tutoring from a lodger, a schoolteacher. He convinced her master to enroll her in night classes. The social workers teaching the night classes began to go from house to house in an attempt to liberate Kamlari girls. The practice of Kamlari has been illegal since 2000. Eventually, the persistence of social workers ended the bonded slavery of Kamlari for Suma. Now, like the social workers that changer her life, Suma goes from house to house advocating for other bonded girls.
Investment by male figures in the lives of girls has also provided the necessary means for receiving an education. Azmera, from Yilmana Densa, Ethiopia grew up with a sister and brother. When her father and sister died, her brother was left as the head of household. In an attempt to give Azmera a better life, her mother agreed to marry Azmera at the age of 13. It was her brother who stated that he would sell everything he owned in order to give her an education and a life of choices. Though the legal age to marry in Ethiopia is 18, 59 percent of girls are married before this age. Men like Azmera’s brother have the power to give girls the chance for an education.
In other instances, it is men who are the hindrance in the struggle to educate girls in developing countries. Amina from Afghanistan states, “If my husband heard these words, he might kill me. So might my father or my brother. Or any one of thousands of my countrymen. Killed because I want to learn.” When Amina was born, her mother burst into tears upon hearing that she was a girl, and she was set aside in the dirt. By three years old, she was expected to work. When Amina was 11 years old, she was sold for 250,000 Afghanis (equivalent to 5,000 American dollars). The money her family received was used to buy a used car for her brother. Who is there to advocate for Amina? Gender-based suppression has not always existed for the women and girls in Afghanistan. In order to reclaim the past, Amina must learn to prevail and refuse ignorance.
The documentary Girl Rising illuminates that investing in the education of girls has the power to not only change the lives of girls in developing countries, but also has the potential to alter the status of the world offering more economic stability. If India alone enrolled only one percent more of its girls in secondary school, their Gross Domestic Product would rise by a projected 5.5 billion dollars. Both men and women around the world need to advocate for the education of girls like Wadley, Suma, Azmera, Amina, and others. Educated girls have the potential to make a global impact, but in order to do so there must be a global investment in their education. For a girl in a developing country the global viewpoint should not reflect a place, “where a girl is simply another thing the world has thrown away.” Girls are the solution. Educate them.