Empowering girls plays a crucial role in long-term, sustainable development by providing a host of societal benefits ranging from higher rates of economic growth to lower rates of maternal and child mortality.
World Learning, Women and Girls Lead Global, and ITVS partnered to highlight the importance of this issue through Generation 2030: The Power of the Girl, a film screening and expert panel discussion. About 100 people attended the October 27 event held at the House of Sweden in Washington, DC. Guests had the chance to contribute to the conversation by sharing something important they learned in school to help highlight the fact that 62 million girls are not receiving an education.
The screening featured vignettes from the film I Am a Girl, which told the stories of three girls from around the world. Kimsey from Cambodia, who supports her family through sex work; Aziza from Afghanistan, who struggles to obtain an education; and Habiba from Cameroon, who is about to marry a man 20 years her senior. Their stories demonstrated the importance of empowering girls through positive role models, safe and supportive environments, and access to education.
Following the screening Kathleen Koch, journalist and executive director of LeadersLink, moderated a panel with Tamara Gould, senior vice president of national production and strategic partnerships at ITVS; Milkah Kihunah, senior policy adviser on gender and empowerment for CARE USA; Manolya Osman, Girl Scout ambassador for Girl Scouts of the USA; Judithe Registre, program director of Because I Am a Girl for Plan International; and Donald Steinberg, president and CEO of World Learning.
The panelists addressed issues including the importance of girls’ empowerment in development initiatives, progress being made in addressing the challenges girls face worldwide, and the use of film and video to highlight girls’ stories and issues.
Registre said a focus on girls’ issues has only emerged last five to ten years. While she is glad to see this shift through initiatives like the Obama administration’s Let Girls Learn, she thinks the question of progress in girls’ empowerment is “premature,” as many of these programs are still in their early days.
“I would say we’re making significant progress in the awareness of the relevance and importance of the issues and how we need to focus them,” Registre said.
Kihunah agreed and noted that organizations are now beginning to collect much more data on what interventions have helped improve life for girls. She said CARE has found “building girls’ agency” is vital, but programs must also consider the “broader environment” in which girls live, including relationships and cultural norms, in order to have a lasting impact.
“You cannot do all of this simply by looking at a girl by herself,” she said. “In other words, focusing on the girl is important, but thinking about the things that are happening around the girl are just as equally important.”
Steinberg said statistics have made it “very clear” that girls education is a vital element in development work and increases in the number of girls receiving an education are correlated to lower rates of early birth, child marriage, and human trafficking.
“I am convinced that the single best investment in peace and development is indeed girls education,” he said.
Gould said film provides a channel for bringing these stories and problems to the public’s attention and despite their seeming incompatibility with ever-dwindling attention spans, documentaries still play an important role in raising awareness of issues and affecting change.
“Films provide a fantastic opportunity to spark dialogue and catalyze conversation,” she said, noting ITVS’ work through Women and Girls Lead Global to hold local screenings in countries around the world in order to bring communities together to discuss and work through social issues.
Registre agreed with Gould, stating that short videos of girls telling their stories for Plan International’s Because I Am a Girl campaign have “transformed everything,” by allowing viewers to identify with the girls and the issues they face.
Generation 2030: The Power of the Girl Slideshow
Girls are crucial to long-term, sustainable development. Communities that empower girls see a host of benefits, ranging…
Osman said watching the vignettes helped stories that seem “so far away” feel more real and personal. She also noted that people don’t need to look to foreign countries to contribute to girls’ empowerment and recommended getting involved in schools or organizations like the Girl Scouts is one way to help girls within one’s own community.
Registre agreed and said within the United States “girls are challenged by very similar complex issues” to the ones facing girls in other countries and they could also benefit from mentors and positive role models.
“I think the opportunities are all around us,” she said.