Water and Education Equals Freedom for Young Girls

When I watched the film Girl Rising, I noticed a common trait in all the girls: DETERMINATION. Determination helped unlock the potential of these 10 young and brave girls who had been raised in dire poverty. It was because of this trait that girls like Amina were able to brave the harsh and backward culture in Afghanistan to access education. Their boldness and curiosity to learn was unparalleled and one to emulate.

Watching these young girls narrate their stories in the film reminded me of how education is freedom. Education liberates us and gives us the opportunity to make our own choices in life. But the sad news is that there are 57 million children globally who don't have access to this basic need and a majority of them are girls. Education is a basic human right for every child, and children should not be denied the opportunity to develop themselves and contribute to the community's economic and social well-being. Educated girls are well-informed and can make their own choices and prosper. Without education, girls feel enslaved and lack a voice of their own. We cannot expect young girls to grow up to be leaders when they are caged and their lives are dictated.

Even though a great deal of funds has been invested in education, it is time for each and every country, community and society to take the initiative to make sure that both boys and girls have equal access to education. Inequality in access to education hinders the prosperity of a country both economically and socially. Cultures that hinder growth need to be changed for progress to be made. Our community elders need to be educated and made aware of the fruits that come with educating a girl. An educated girl is an asset to the community, and will contribute equally as the boys towards the development of her surroundings. A collaborative effort among men and women in the communities, political leaders and business leaders is needed to ensure more girls are educated

In the Girl Rising film, Wadley's story reminds us of how access to water and clean sanitation plays a key role in enabling girls' access education. After Wadley was forced to drop out of school due to lack of money, she had to stay at home and perform house chores. But it was not long before she decided to go back to school without the money. Even though Wadley walked long distances to fetch water every morning before she went to school, that did not dampen her spirit to get an education. Today, we have more than 768 million people who don't have access to clean water and 2.5 billion people who lack access to proper sanitation.

Lack of access to water poses health and security risks to the life of a girl. In rural communities access to sanitary napkins is a luxury, so many girls use clothes that they have to wash and re-use. Without access to water, there is no way they can go to school because they are considered dirty and are humiliated in front of their peers. This often leads to the girls having to drop out of school. It is indeed a shame to all of us that it is 21st century and we still have girls using methods during menstruation that may lead to genital infections that could harm their lives. I have shared this unfortunate situation with my friends at school in the United States, and they never seem to understand. Lack of proper toilets also causes security risk to many girls. The truth is that it is easy for a man to relieve himself by the roadside and pretend everything is normal, but women or young girls cannot. As a result, you find girls going into the bushes or looking for a hidden place to relieve themselves when they don't have proper toilets. This is actually very risky, because predatory men can hide in the same discrete places, victimizing girls out of sight of everyone else. We need to ensure girls' basic safety.

Time is running out for dialogue, and it is time for non-profits, governments and the private sector to chime in and take practical steps towards girls' education. Let us bring to an end the horrors illustrated by Girls Rising: early child marriage, female genital mutilation, rape and lack of access to water and sanitation. The girls in the Girl Rising film serve as an example of how access to education can transform the lives of girls. They are ambassadors to the many girls around the globe who share the same dreams and goals in life. Let us educate communities, set up schools and water projects and involve men in ensuring both girls and boys achieve equal dreams. Education is our strength, our shield, and our power!