Girl Rising, a new documentary opening in Portland on March 7, makes the case that educating girls has a tangible effect not just on an individual woman but on the entire community and even the nation where she lives.
According to the documentary, an additional year of schooling improves a young woman’s earnings as an adult by 20 percent. In India, an increase of 1 percent in the number of girls attending secondary school would raise the nation’s gross domestic product by $5 billion.
But the film, by Oscar-nominated director Richard Robbins, shows how difficult getting that added year can be.
The movie follows nine girls from all over the world through the challenges they face in getting an education.
The documentary follows one girl, Senna, from Peru, who lives under the threat of sex work. The film says 80 percent of human trafficking victims are girls.
Girl Rising also follows Amina, from Afghanistan, who was married off at age 11. Fourteen million girls worldwide under the age of 18 will walk down the aisle this year, and the No. 1 killer of women between the ages of 15 and 19 is childbirth.
The March 7 premiere at the World Trade Center features a panel discussion, including Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation, which provided the financial backing for Girl Rising; Elizabeth Nye, executive director of Girls Inc. of Northwest Oregon, a life-skills program; and Chane Griggs, assistant director for offender management and rehabilitation at the Oregon Department of Corrections.
The premiere is sold out. (Other screenings, including on March 7 at Cinema 21 are being scheduled through the crowd-sourcing distribution company gathr.us.) So WW spoke with three of the panelists about what they see as the most pressing education issues for girls.
WW: What are the biggest changes that can be made to improve girls’ education in Portland?
Wendy Hawkins: A lot of parents are not comfortable going to talk to teachers to be an advocate for their daughter. An open door between school and home is really critical, and it requires public support and encouragement.
It can’t just be up to the school and educators to keep an eye out for girls who fall between the cracks.
Elizabeth Nye: I think we can recognize the importance of a girls-only environment, for girls to explore their interests and passions.
Boys traditionally play Legos and move into building and robotics. You throw a girl into that environment and she begins to doubt herself.
What’s the biggest obstacle for improving education for girls here?
Hawkins: Some of the issues we see in the film are unlikely to be faced by American girls. Others are unfortunately all too common. There are girls outside of the U.S. who are, because of the dire poverty their families face, pulled into sex labor and enforced labor. We know that this occurs in Portland too.
Nye: We have a phrase, “Believing in the inherent rights and abilities of girls.” We project all of these things on girls. I’d love to see a society that accepts girls for themselves, rather than putting them in boxes.
Girls need to see women in positions of leadership. They need examples. I have two daughters, one 9 and one 8 years old. I look at my daughters and think, “They have access to everything.”
We were having a conversation over dinner, and my daughter turned to me and asked, “Can a woman be governor?” I’m looking at her and thinking, “She has access to everything, and she is still doubting herself.” It’s important to see women in positions of leadership, for girls to see, “I could do that.”
How does a lack of education impact the state’s prison population?
Chane Griggs: About 38 percent of our population, both male and female, comes into our custody without even a GED. Most of our women are in for things like identity theft and property crime. Those are not crimes of passion, those are crimes of needing money.
If someone has an education and they have a job, they are constructively living in our communities and not committing crime.
We offer basic skills-development that helps people with low reading and math levels to prepare for the GED. We have college classes and vocational opportunities, including hairstyling, barista classes, eyeglass refinishing, and welding. Those are all either paid for by the inmate or by donors.
How can getting an education early on make the difference down the road?
Griggs: Our hope is that with the right education, those women never come to us.