#IWD2019 #Education Voices: “Educating Girls Matters: How You Can Help Change the World”, by Kayce Freed Jennings

This is true: educating girls will change the world. We know that. So why, then, are there still 130 million girls out of school and what can we do about it? What can you, as educators, do about it? What can your students do?

What we do at Girl Rising (GR) is use the power of storytelling to change minds, behaviors and lives.  Working with others – boys, girls, men, women, grassroots organizers, community and religious leaders, educators – we strive to change the way the world values girls and girls value themselves so that every girl can become an equal participant in society.

By the way, when we started, we weren’t experts at this. A decade ago we were a small band of journalists and documentary makers, hired to research global poverty and completely unaware of what we would find.  But when we learned about the transformative power of girls’ education, well, we knew there was a story we had to tell:  big, compelling, wildly important and irresistible.  And we knew we needed to tell it in a way that would inspire others as it had inspired us – not only to care but also to act. 

The reason why is simple.

As we learned, the obstacles facing girls are truly daunting and complicated: child marriage, gender-based violence, trafficking, domestic slavery, poverty, religious and cultural tradition, among them.  But, as we also learned, if we can break down those barriers, find ways to get girls in school and keep them there, extraordinary change happens ­– for the girls, their families, their communities, their countries and the world.  The facts are as clear as they are stunning: educated girls marry later, have fewer and healthier children, educate their children (boys and girls – who will then educate their boys and girls), stand up for themselves, earn more money … on and on and on.  As others much wiser than I have said, “Educating girls isn’t merely the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”   

So that is the aim of Girl Rising – to convince us all that this is the right and smart thing to do.  And to empower us all to be part of this change.

Girl Rising works both globally and locally.  Our central and most potent tool is our film, Girl Rising, which tells nine stories about girls confronting the barriers to their educations (it has been subtitled or dubbed into almost 30 languages).  These stories are about challenge, yes, but mostly they are about potential, possibility and hope.  They are about girls like Azmera, from Ethiopia, who was destined to be a child bride until, supported by her brother, she says “no”. Senna finds poetry and ambition amid the mind-numbing poverty and squalor of a Peruvian gold mining community.  Young Wadley, from Haiti, demands to stay in class even though her mother could no longer afford school fees when an earthquake left them homeless.  And, on this International Women’s Day, we’re releasing a brand new short film, Brave Girl Rising, that tells the story of Nasro, a 17 year old Somali girl growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp, where danger is even greater, opportunities even fewer, barriers even higher.  Persistent, resilient and determined, each of these girls represents what can be and what should be.

Girl Rising collaborates with partners across the globe to use these stories, others like them (many locally created), and educational resources we build around them, to advocate for girls’ education and drive locally led change.  We have worked with partners in India, where we produced a Hindi version of the film and a gender sensitization curriculum; in Northern Nigeria, where our partners produced local films to pair with the GR stories; the Democratic Republic of Congo, where our film was translated into four languages and screened in rural villages; Pakistan and Thailand, where our pilot project encourages girls to follow their dreams; and most recently we’ve launched in Guatemala where our initiative promotes quality education for all girls.

And then there is Girl Rising Educators, the program maybe nearest to my heart.  Designed to support educators everywhere who want to bring Girl Rising to their communities, it includes ­­– in addition to the film’s stories ­– a free curriculum (available in English, French and Spanish) for students aged approximately 10 – 18, a young adult book, a very international Facebook group and a web portal where teachers can exchange ideas and learn about each others’ work.

As Director of GR Educators, I have the privilege of visiting classrooms from time to time (in person or virtually) and I see how students everywhere – girls and boys, in North America, West Africa, or South Asia, whether they themselves face these obstacles or not – respond to the Girl Rising stories. I’m blown away by their enthusiasm, their curiosity, and how they effortlessly connect with the girls in the film despite cultural and geographic distance.  I’m inspired by their eagerness to explore a world beyond their borders and the complex issues that impact girls’ education.  I’m energized by their embrace of global citizenship, discovery of their own voice, and growing belief in their personal power to effect change.  And I’m invigorated when I see them engage with one another, as I did when I “sat in” on a recent Zoom conversation between teenage girls in Iran and high schoolers in California. What I see happening in those classrooms around the world is why I believe in the future.

None of this happens without you – passionate educators and leaders from across the globe who bring Girl Rising to their students, schools, districts and associations.  So, needless to say, I hope you will join our growing GR Educator community, 7000 strong and representing more than 130 countries.  You are essential to this movement for educational opportunity and gender equity because it is through you that we reach young people and it is through empowered young people – like those whose stories we tell in Girl Rising – that change is sure to come.

This is true: educating girls will change the world. 

This blog is part of a series of blogs to commemorate International Women’s Day 2019, which highlight gender and education issues that are linked to the themes and sub-themes of the 8th EI World Congress, which will take place in Bangkok, Thailand July 19-26th 2019.

Read the previous blog in the series: #IWD2019 #Education Voices: “The Role of Education in South Africa’s Struggle Against Gender Based Violence”, by Dorcus Sekabate


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Kayce Freed Jennings

Kayce Freed Jennings is senior producer of Girl Rising and director of Girl Rising Educators. Before that she was co-founder of The Documentary Group, an independent production company, and for many years a producer for ABC News, based in London, Atlanta and New York.  Kayce currently serves on the board of Win, a New York agency serving homeless families, and the advisory boards of SOLA - School of Leadership, Afghanistan, and the Jimbere Fund, a non-profit that mobilizes women to fight poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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