Changing the World, One Girl at a Time
The message of the film “Girl Rising” is powerful and clear: there are 62 million girls across the globe who are not in school and by educating them, you change their lives, their communities, and the world. This idea is echoed and elaborated on by Tanya Lee Stone in her book, Girl Rising, in which she takes a closer look at the factors impeding girls’ access to education globally while sharing many more stories and photographs.
Education is a powerful tool, one which affects a young woman’s employment, income, health, and the health of her children and family, and its absence is devastating. Both film and book are not meant to be tragedies but an inspiration, sharing the experiences and the tremendous odds that have been overcome simply to access something that we, in the United States, tend to take for granted. Gender inequity exists and is painfully felt when it comes to access to education. We all must do our part to inform ourselves and fight for women and girls in our communities and across the globe.
The impetus for Tanya’s journey into girls’ education around the world came in 2013 when the film by the same name was released.Tanya went to see it at Merrill’s Roxy in Burlington, VT.
A writer by trade, she holds a degree in English from Oberlin College and worked as an editor in New York City for children’s non-fiction. Over 20 years ago, she moved to Vermont where the lack of opportunities as an editor led her to pursue work as a writer, again of children’s non-fiction. Here she further honed her skills as a researcher before later beginning to pursue a career in writing driven more by her passion for the subject matter and her own creativity. In her own words, “What I’m often drawn to are little know stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things… people whose names should be in the record but aren’t… because we mostly tell white male stories.”
After leaving The Roxy, Tanya found herself reflecting not just on their experiences, the incredible endurance and strength of these nine girls, or the hope that the filmmakers attempted to convey, but on the enduring question:
“Why are 62 million girls around the world not being educated?”
The film “Girl Rising” told the stories of nine girls. While she found the film deeply moving, she wanted to expand their research, delving deeper into the factors leading to this enormous education gap around the world. She also felt driven to share the untold stories left out by the limits of a 90-minute movie, and wanted to share as many faces of as many young women as she could.
When asked the question of why girls? Why education and why now? Tanya responded, “That’s easy; educating girls is the single most powerful tool we have to change this world.” She went on, “It changes the way villages, towns, communities, governments, nations behave. When a greater percentage of females in any population around the world are more educated, everything changes: the economy changes, the legislation changes, everything changes.” The simple fact is that educating girls, allowing and encouraging them to attend school, leads to things such as delayed marriage and age of first child’s birth. This in turn results in lower infant mortality, a longer and healthier life, and thus access to a better paying job. A better paying job then allows her to further invest in her own community and increases the likelihood of her daughters attending school and continuing what Tanya calls the Ripple Effect.
While the book discusses the positive effects of education, it also underscores the brutal reality of millions of young girls’ lives and the factors leading to 62 million girls not receiving formal education. It describes the interplay of gender discrimination, extreme poverty, child marriage, trafficking, and many forms of abuse.
One could think of this as a product of culture, religion or geography but Tanya does not allow for such a limited and judgmental interpretation. When asked, she refers to the story of a young woman who, at 14, was on the brink of being married to a much older man. However, she says, “It’s easy for us, in the Western world, where things like school are free, to say, ‘what a terrible mother! How could the mother of a 14 year old girl do that?!’”
What she goes on to describe is how, while early marriage is cultural to a degree, it is also a solution to a poverty problem. While it is very easy to be judgmental, she challenges us to understand that in many of these cases, the issues are much, much greater than in one particular community or country. And in this case, this young woman’s mother is not doing something cruel, she loves her daughter like any mother would. And because of this, she has made choices based on the situation and the options that she sees available.
Through all of this, it is possible to remain inspired and hopeful by the young women whose stories are woven throughout the book. Many of these girls have overcome tremendous odds to advocate for themselves and gender equity, specifically related to education.
Tanya wants us to understand that simply hearing these stories is the first step towards change.
“To have a voice and to be heard is to gain power.”
One can change the world one girl at a time and the way to do this is through education. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and to fight for access to education for all girls everywhere.
Overall, Tanya’s hope is that younger people will become increasingly aware: “[The girls in Girl Rising] are not ‘other’ girls, they’re not in other places, they are just girls, girls who have every right to be going to school.” And if they have access to school and education, they will change their futures and our world. It is essential that we all remember that the girls in the film “Girl Rising,” the girls in the book Girl Rising, the girls that our children go to school with, the girls that we serve every day at VWW, are, like Tanya has said, just girls.
The hope is that we are left with the inspiration to educate ourselves and not be intimidated by the enormity of the problem. This is the hope not just of Tanya Stone’s and the team that created Girl Rising but of all of us working to create a world where women and girls live safe, independent lives in which they have the skills and self-confidence to choose the path that is right for them.
Like what you read? Join Vermont Works for Women for a special select screening and reading of “Girl Rising” with Author Tanya Lee Stone on August 17. Click here for event details.