A documentary changing the conversation about the gender education gap
As a child, I grew up understanding that my gender would afford me a different life experience. As the daughter of African immigrants, I grew up in two very different worlds that blended American and Nigerian cultures. When I walked out of my house, I entered an America in which the world was mine regardless of my gender. Early on, I recognized that growing up in the United States gave me better opportunities than in my native Nigeria. I was given access to advanced primary/higher education, reproductive health rights and legally-established equal protection under the law in relation to men. Though sexism is still pervasive in American society, I recognized the privilege of having been born in a country that acknowledges that I am inherently worthy of the same rights afforded to men.
We live in a world with varying forms of discrimination. In the discussion of addressing social injustice, the rights of women and girls are often unintentionally excluded from the conversation. Though domestically we've made significant strides in advancing the rights of women and girls, the struggle for the international women's liberation continues on. As Americans, we often forget about our sisters in different countries working to be granted the basic human rights we hold dear in the United States.
Presently, two-thirds of the world's illiterate population is female. This startling statistics paints a dim portrait of the effects of the gender education gap as a barrier to destroying global economic deprivation. The lack of access to education for girls serves as a breeding ground for pervasive forms of gender-based discrimination to thrive i.e. institutionalized sexism, legal sexual/domestic violence, teen pregnancy, human trafficking and early marriage.
As members of the developed world, we have a duty to ensure that policymakers and our communities address these unlawful conditions women in the world are unjustly subjected to. Slowly but surely, women leaders in the United States are heading this call to action. The vice president of the Documentary Group, Kayce Freed Jennings, stands as a staunch supporter of equality for women across the globe.
She is senior producer of The Documentary Group's most ambitious project, Girl Rising, a global action campaign and critically acclaimed film that is raising awareness about the power of girls' education to change the world. Jennings concludes that,
If you really want to alleviate global poverty [you] educate girls... The reason girls aren't educated can be complicated, but the results when they are educated are simple: Girls get married later, they have fewer and healthier children, they educate their own children and their families, communities and countries prosper. So educating girls is not only great for girls, but it's great for all of us.
Girl Rising has been several years in the making. The film documents the lives of nine girls confronting the barriers to their education, including economic instability, arranged marriages, childhood slavery, sexual assault/rape and discrimination. The overall message of Girl Rising is that educational equity -- the opportunity for girls to go to school and stay in school -- will not only reduce these social injustices, but will also help end global socioeconomic disparities.
Last week, on U.N.'s International Day of Girl, Girl Rising kicked off a month-long global awareness campaign -- more than 2000 events have been registered in more than 150 countries. College campus and local communities are becoming involved in the movement through Girl Rising screenings, a free curriculum for schools and a variety of other tools provided by the Girl Rising campaign. The Girl Rising Fund supports the campaign's NGO partners working on the ground to help get and keep girls in schools. This campaign intends to inspire youth to use their own education to create cracks in the cycle of poverty for a demographic that is too often forgotten in talks about world change.
"Girl Rising" has created a number of noteworthy collaborations within the corporate world. One of the companies that has responded to and embraced the campaign is TD Ameritrade. Girl Rising has become part of an engagement campaign initiated by the financial giant to encourage their employees' commitment to public service and create a consciousness about unseen injustices domestically and internationally. TD Ameritrade Managing Director of Communications, Public Affairs and Events Katrina Becker believes, "[Girl Rising] really speaks to our millennials and Gen Y young professionals groups. [Our staffers] just embraced that project and wanted to be involved."
Spoken word artist and Girl Rising Global Ambassador Azure Antoinette first introduced the project to TD Ameritrade last spring and, since then, she and the company have co-hosted several screenings across the country. She describes how Girl Rising changed her perspective on her own life,
Seeing the young women of this film, of this movement, inspired me to not only act on their behalf, but it reminded me of the brilliance that lied within me. The nature, the ferocity, accented with majestic compassion, from women who were half my age and younger, moved me.
Girl Rising is more than just another humanitarian effort. The campaign and film are impacting the lives of countless people across the globe. Upon viewing the documentary, I truly began to understand the correlation between gender and global poverty. The film's individual stories are representative of a larger need for the voices of women to be heard in the arena of international public policy. Girl Rising touched my activist spirit and rebellious soul because I became compelled to do more than stand as a silent observer while injustice prevails. During a TD Ameritrade screening of the film, I sat down with Girl Rising supporter Monique Coleman. Coleman, the star of the Disney High School Musical franchise, serves as the U.N.'s first Youth Champion. "There's so much beauty, there's so much opportunity, there's so much possibility and I found that most of that possibility lies in empowering, educating and liberating women," she says. "Educating girls really would exponentially change our world."
Raising awareness and influencing public policy about eliminating institutionalized gender-based discrimination does not end with Girl Rising, it has only just begun. Watch the film, talk about it amongst your peers/co-workers/friends, and encourage legislators to make the rights of women and girls a policy priority and not just a special interest issue. As an individual, you are the voice that can help Girl Rising continue to change the world for the better.
Girl Rising continues to support the education and financial wellbeing of the nine young women featured in the film. You can support these efforts by visiting their website and signing up to host a screening in your community.