There are some 30 million girls around the world who should be going to primary school but who are not attending or cannot attend school. Girl Rising, a 2013 documentary which was screened Tuesday night in the McCormick Tribune Center, tells the stories of nine young women and girls from around the world who have faced cultural, economic and societal barriers to education and other rights, but who have triumphed in ways big and small nonetheless.
“We’re all going to Northwestern, we’re all getting an education,” said freshman Aysha Salter-Volz, a co-chair for International Gender Equality Movement, one of the many organizations that put on the screening. “We can take it for granted, especially in the first world in a large, private university. [The film] is a really powerful way to remind the generation that is capable of making change that people are coming from so much less and rising up. ”
Although the film presents viewers with shocking statistics – for example, that 50 percent of victims of sexual abuse are under the age of 15 – the documentary is told in a narrative format, tracing the difficulties women and girls in the developing world face, and how change is created.
Among the stories presented in the film was that of Suma, a girl from Nepal who was forced to start working at the age of six as a bonded laborer, or kamlari. She was mistreated and abused, but eventually was able to attend classes at night. Her teachers advocated for her rights, eventually freeing her from her position. Now, Suma is still in school, and she works to advocate for girls who are in situations similar to hers.
The screening was followed by a moderated Q&A with Ethiopian-American author Maaza Mengiste, who wrote the section of the film about Azmera, a young girl in an Ethiopian village who, along with her family, stands up to the custom of early child marriage.
Mengiste is currently the writer-in-residence at Northwestern’s Center for the Writing Arts, talked about her process of writing the section of the film. After researching the topic of child marriage in Ethiopia, and hearing personal stories from family and friends, Mengiste agreed to help write Azmera’s story.
“Statistics are not as moving as even one story,” Mengiste said. She emphasized the fact that in Azmera’s story, it was a type of love and complex economic consequences that almost led her family to marry her off at a young age.
Mengiste also spoke about her creative process. She chose not to write the story in first person, as some of the other stories were, so that her own voice was distinct from Azmera’s. Mengiste also talked about the positive effects of Azmera’s story in her own region and other areas of the country, where she and many other girls are attending school and benefitting from money and donations spurred by the film.
“I hope that people walk away with a sense of solidarity with the women of the world,” Salter-Volz said. “We all aspire for the same things even though our stories are different. "The takeaway is a call to action, to remind yourself how the individual can make a difference and individual stories make up even bigger change.”
Prior to the screening, students from GlobeMed, another group that helped host the screening, announced a campaign to raise money for aid relief to Nepal, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the capital city on Saturday.