Educating Girls -- and Changing the World

A Pakistani student writes a message on a placard with a photograph of Pakistan's child activist Malala Yousafzai to mark 'Ma
A Pakistani student writes a message on a placard with a photograph of Pakistan's child activist Malala Yousafzai to mark 'Malala Day' in Lahore on November 10, 2012. Pakistan marked 'Malala Day' Saturday on a global day of support for the teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting girls' education, but in her home town security fears meant schoolmates could not honour her in public. Nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Malala to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and on Friday UN special education envoy Gordon Brown handed a separate million-strong petition in support of Malala to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. AFP PHOTO / ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Development efforts around the world nobly aim to make change. From eradicating polio to eliminating the guinea worm, earnest efforts, sponsored by NGOs including Rotary International as well as individuals -- from Jimmy Carter to Bill Gates -- aim high to make fundamental change in developing societies. Yet very few efforts match the social, economic and political impact of educating girls. By every statistical measure, educating girls in developing countries has a profound impact. Two statistics suffice to demonstrate the point: When 10 percent more of its girls go to school, a country's GDP increases by an average of 3 percent. When girls receive at least seven years of schooling, they marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children. Profound results.

A Call to Action

A key aspect of that effort is promoting awareness and calling communities to action. A new film by 10x10, Girl Rising, takes that awareness to a much higher level of conversation. Based on the stories of nine young girls in nine countries, Girl Rising vividly brings each girl's story to the big screen.
A list-narrators including Meryl Steep, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson and Salma Hayek draw our immediate attention to each girl's successful struggle simply to get an education. As part of that campaign to build awareness, create impact, and call communities to action, a sneak preview segment of Girl Rising screened last night at The Siciliano Forum at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, as part of a broader forum on the future of higher education.

Derek Knowles, a core member of the 10x10 production team introduced the sneak preview segment to nearly 200 students, faculty and community members. Following its premiere in New York today, the film will screen in full in hundreds of communities across the country starting tomorrow.

A Song You Can't Hold Back

Female education, whether at a primary, secondary or higher level seems an obvious concept to Westerners; not so in developing countries where custom and tradition often discourage or prohibit it. Occasionally our consciences are roused -- witness the brutal shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan who nearly died striving for an education. Girl Rising raises that challenge to a very personal level -- we meet Senna from Peru, who escaped a life in the Peruvian mines because her father insisted she get an education. She finds strength in poetry. And we meet Suma from Nepal, denied an education afforded to her brothers and sold into bonded slavery at the age of six. She endured years of sorrow, comforted by writing music. After getting the chance to learn to read, she now uses her education to help other girls attain their own freedom. "Change," she writes, "is like a song you can't hold back."

Making Change Happen -- and Measuring It

Without a doubt, a high-profile film backed by Intel and Paul Allen's Vulcan Productions significantly enhances awareness. But more needs to be done to build on their efforts. First, programs need to be continuously funded. Individuals, foundations and corporates that back campaigns like 10x10 need to keep doing so on a continuous basis. Flitting support breeds unstable programs and prejudices their impact. Second, NGOs on the ground need to improve their ability to measure progress, improve effectiveness and demonstrate accountability. Bill Gates' recent cover piece in the Wall Street Journal attests to the importance of quantifying what impact is made, thereby increasing financial and political support.

Third, local communities, especially paternal figures, need to embrace and take heed from young women like Senna, Suma and Shabana, a 10x10 Ambassador in Afghanistan. Forced to attend a secret school in Kabul under the Taliban as a young girl, Shabana co-founded -- at just 22 years old -- the School of Leadership Afghanistan to educate girls in the post-Taliban era. A sequel to Girl Rising in the making? Based on just one segment, we can only hope.