Waking up on International Women’s Day

On March 12, 2015, International Women’s Day, I found out that being born a girl makes you more likely to experience violence, disease, and poverty than any other group on the planet.

I learned this at the sold-out JSI-organized, USAID-sponsored screening of ‘I am a Girl’ at the Gallery Place Theater in Washington D.C.[i] The film follows six girls from various parts of the world, each of whom struggles to ‘come of age.’ At times it was hard to believe that filmmaker Rebecca Barry was capturing contemporary young women, because the injustices these girls are subjected to (should) have no place in the 21st century.

While progress toward decreased maternal mortality and gender inequality, as well as increased primary school completion for girls has been made, it is staggeringly slow. Every day, 800 women worldwide still die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, and 60% of people who are chronically hungry are women and girls.[ii] And as recently as 2011, more than 30 million girls were not enrolled in primary school.[iii]

The girls’ stories in the film are of heartbreak and tragedy but also determination and inspiration. Kimsey from Cambodia became pregnant at age 14 and was forced to deliver her baby at home by herself. In Papua New Guinea, Manu, also pregnant with her first child, did not deliver alone but waited for hours to receive minimal care at an overcrowded and understaffed health facility. Their experiences illustrate the need for improved maternal care in communities and at facilities in developing countries. To this end, JSI’s Last 10 Kilometers Project (L10K) has recognized and is addressing issues related to respectful maternal care in rural Ethiopian health facilities.

Habiba from Cameroon and Aziza from Afghanistan each lost a parent at a young age and talk about overcoming grief and going on with life. Though young Habiba marries an older man, she has a say in choosing her mate and is embraced by her community. Aziza’s family supports her desire to continue her education and dream of becoming a lawyer and inspiring girls to pursue their dreams despite the violence and cultural barriers in her country.

Breani in the United States and Katie in Australia complete the film’s portrayal of girls’ challenges across cultures and conditions. Katie’s story depicts her ongoing battle with depression. Breani makes the most of her situation and pursues her interest in music. Despite each girl’s tremendous circumstantial variety, this film conveys the ongoing importance of efforts to protect, educate, and empower girls.

If you’d like to find or host a screening in your area, you can go to http://www.iamagirl.com.au and download the education toolkit or send a postcard to one of the girls.

[i] I Am A Girl (2015). http://www.iamaagirl.com.au

[ii] United Nations Development Programme (2015). Fast Facts. http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/fast-facts/english/FF-Gender-Equality-and-UNDP.pdf

[iii] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2015). Gender and Education. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/gender-education.aspx

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