Shown on a limited basis for a short time in select theaters, Girl Rising should attract humanists for its focus on the world’s need for girls to be educated. As the documentary’s narrator says, “Girls are simply one more thing the world has thrown away.”
Around the world, girls (each with the help of a local writer) tell their true stories of heartbreak and triumph. In post-earthquake Haiti, for instance, a girl without the money to continue her schooling persists with a sit-in in a classroom until the teacher acquiesces. In Nepal, an indentured girl composes songs to get her through difficulties (singing about being “a slave at a master’s house”), until a teacher helps free her from bondage as the practice becomes illegal. In Egypt a girl of twelve is first the victim of rape and then of early marriage, but a policeman asks her to share her story as a cautionary one for his own daughter. And in Ethiopia, a young man intervenes as his little sister is about to be sold into an early marriage. He promises their impoverished, widowed mother that he will find a way to pay for her to go to school instead. She realizes, “This life is mine to make.”
The stories continue: In India a struggling street vendor charmingly buys his little girl an art tablet so she can use her school notebook solely for math assignments. In Peru, in a gold-mining town high in the Andes, a girl struggles even harder after her father dies, but then she happens upon a poem that is “Like coming upon a cache of buried treasure”; in time, she too becomes a poet, finding that a fortune has always been lodged inside herself.
A girl in Sierre Leone, the first in her family to attend school, is inspired by science’s method of asking questions and solving problems. Overcoming her well-meaning father’s objections, she becomes host of a radio program that enables her to talk to other girls and help them stay in school and solve other problems.
Among the worst situations are those in Afghanistan where, at one girl’s birth her mother cried when she learned her baby was a female. Nevertheless, the girl learns to read and write, until Taliban fanatics oust girls from schools and she, too, is sold into marriage. There, where more women die giving birth than anywhere else in the world, she is still a clandestine voice for other young girls who are “masked and muted” by the burka. “If you kill me,” she says, “there will be other girls who rise up. I am the beginning of another story.”
In its quest to awaken, horrify, and inspire, Girl Rising is necessarily polemical. But it holds attention also with some fine cinematography, photo/art animation sequences, interesting voice performances, and even the powerful use of statistics: for example, 66 million girls are out of school worldwide. If you cannot see the documentary, you can still go to the website, www.girlrising.com. Remember, “Educating girls works.”
Rating: Three wooden nickels (out of four)