Can a movie change the world? Does raising awareness about the conditions of girls you will never meet motivate you to create change? Girl Rising is hoping the answer to both of those questions is “Yes!” I saw the film last week in a theater with about 200 other people, including adult men and women and a number of children and adolescents (mostly girls). My brilliant former student started the campaign to bring the film to Pittsburgh because many of us missed the chance to see it in March. The filmmakers explore the role of education in the lives of girls all around the world. They showcase a number of girls who team up with women writers in their home countries to tell their stories. While each story is unique, they share the characteristic of highlighting the importance of education in the lives of girls, often by describing the consequences girls face when they do not have access to education. Throughout the film, statistics on the rates of education and how that relates to other markers of emotional, physical and financial well-being were shared in creative ways by girls and young women. All of the features sought to tell the story that education is important to girls and many of them are denied access.
While the movie has many strong points, there were some limitations. At one point the narrator said something like “Girls are not to blame for this situation” (I am paraphrasing here) to which I said, out loud, “Duh!” But this moment pointed out the thing that was missing from this movie: a thorough explanation of the cause of this problem. To be sure, each story had a description of the particular circumstances facing that girl. Usually the girls were not able to get an education because it 1) cost too much, 2) the girls were working to help support their families or 3) it was not seem as important for girls to be educated (often, as opposed to boys who were getting an education). While these aspects of the stories were important and true, they did not necessarily explain the bigger picture. As one of my colleagues who saw the film commented, there was not a discussion of the larger forces at play (aka sexism and patriarchy) that united each of these stories. It is not a coincidence that in countries all over the world, girls are being denied education more often than boys are. In many societies, girls and women are considered less valuable than boys and men. In some, they are treated as property that can be bought and sold. In many they are subjected to physical, emotional and sexual violence. And when resources are limited, it is more often the needs of girls and women that are sacrificed.
And yet, many studies show that when girls and women prosper, an entire society prospers. As girls’ and women’s access to education and reproductive medicine (and dignity and respect) increases, the infant mortality rate decreases, the lifespan increases, the economic stability increases, and there are a number of other boosts to public health. This is NOT a zero sum game, where boys and men must suffer in order for the lives of girls and women to improve. It is in the best interest of us all to support girls worldwide.
Overall, I liked the movie. It was well produced and the stories were compelling and moving. It made me reflect on my life as an American woman and think about what I could do to make a difference, not only in my community but worldwide. I wish it would have given more suggestions as to how to support change (the two listed were; bring this movie to your community and donate money) but I am trying to spread the word in my own way. And while I don’t think that awareness alone is enough, it is an important first step.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.