Last week I watched this amazing documentary on Netflix called Girl Rising. The focus of the documentary is the importance of access to education for girls, especially in developing countries. The documentary follows the stories of young girls who are fighting for access to education, and sometimes fighting for their lives. Interspersed throughout the film are statistics about the lack of access to education and the ways the world would change if more girls could go to school. Getting girls access to education is, of course, important, but you may question if it would have a global impact. The statistics show it will. According to the film, “If India enrolled 1% more girls in secondary school its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.” Since India is quickly becoming a major player in the global economy this rise in GDP would have dramatic results.
There is also a direct correlation between education and health: those who have access to education are often able to keep themselves healthier. Women who had access to education as girls are less likely to die in childbirth or be the victims of violence. This is at least partially because women who had access to education as girls have the necessary power and knowledge to get out of their harmful environments. Women who were educated as girls have better earning capacity and they use that money to take care of their families and communities. Women who were educated as girls will make breakthroughs in medicine, science, technology, and myriad other fields that will change the world as we know it.
You may be saying that all these statements could also apply to men who had access to education as boys. For the most part that’s true but it’s also true that the majority of boys, even in developing countries, have access to education. 33 million more boys go to school than girls. The girls sharing their stories in Girl Rising repeatedly state that their brothers were sent to school, but they weren’t; that their friends brothers were sent to school, but their friends weren’t. Men have the power to change the world too, but they are already given the access. Girls are not.
Sending girls to school also sends a message that is just as important as the results that come from educating girls. The message is that girls are just as important as boys. Girls deserve just as much as boys. Girls are just as intelligent as boys. Girls should get the same opportunities as boys. Women can change the world the same way that men can change the world. Women can make breakthroughs the same way that men can. Given the proper education any woman can do just as much and more than any man.
This message is not popular throughout the world. Again and again the girls in Girl Rising recount the stories they have been told about their worth. They are told their place is in the home taking care of their children. They are told that their value is in the dowry that will be paid for their marriage. They are told that educating them is not worth it because they will never have a professional job like the men around them. They are married off as children to pay debts. They are pulled from school while their brothers continue to go so they can help their mothers at home. They are told to hide, be quiet, and know their place, which is not in the classroom. Sending girls to school will change these messages, and these messages will not change until we send more girls to school.
I ugly cried at many points throughout the movie, but the moment I cried the most was when the brother of one of the girls refused to marry her off so that she could continue to go to school. Their father had died and left the family with debts. Though his sister was only 14, a wealthy community member offered to forgive their debts if he could marry the sister. Their mother, knowing no other way for their family to survive, agreed to the marriage. But the brother, the only surviving male in the family, refused to allow the marriage. He believed with all his heart that his sister deserved a different opportunity and that opportunity was education.
I wish for a world where girls do not have to rely on an understanding man to allow their education. I wish for a world where girls can go to school without having to fight. Right now, this world doesn’t exist for millions of girls. In the mean time, I wish that more men would stand up for girls the way this brother did. And I wish that more people with privilege and voice would speak up for these girls who just want the thing that every teenager in America doesn’t want: a day in the classroom.