Event Recap: ‘Brave Girl Rising’ is Changing the World’s View of Girls’ Potential, One Story at a Time

By Riley Grace Borden, Guest Writer

A crowd of Seattleites of all ages gathered on Friday, March 8, at the SIFF Theater Seattle premiere screening of the latest chapter of Girl Rising’s short film, Brave Girl Rising. The CEO of Girl Rising, Christina Lowery, participated in a panel discussion after the showing, along with the executive director of Global Washington, Kristen Dailey, and the executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Seattle, Nicky Smith.

Girl Rising started in 2013 as a temporary film project in the hands of a small group of journalists who were approached about ending global poverty. To begin tackling the problem, the journalists interviewed experts across a range of fields, and found that consistently, one of the top five things that needed to happen in each sector was the education of girls. There are mountains of evidence supporting the positive effect of educating girls and keeping them in school, from later marriage, fewer children, increased status in communities, improved health, and more prosperous nations overall. The journalists focused their attention on this issue of girls’ education, which later blossomed into the company, Girl Rising. Because of the immense impact of the short films, the company and this project has continued to expand.

Lowry started by showing the audience a short clip from one of Girl Rising’s early films about a girl from Nepal named Suma. Both of Suma’s parents were bonded to slave masters, and in order to support her family, Suma also became a kamlari, bound to a master at the age of six. The film showed Suma moving through a total of three different masters, having to perform labor from 4:00 a.m. until dark, and facing physical abuse. While Suma wanted to be at home receiving an education like her brother, it felt too weak to ask for the same as her brother when she thought of the suffering her parents’ both endured. Eventually, a group of teachers came to Suma’s third house and began teaching night classes. They started advocating for Suma. Eventually, Suma was freed and allowed to return to her family, and she now advocates for the freeing of other kamlaris.

After the impact of this first film, Lowry explained, Girl Rising began a campaign with the goal of “changing minds, lives, and policy.” The films were transformed into practical tools and programs with the potential to educate, inspire, and encourage real action. They have shown the films and brought their work to India, northern Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others. In India, this same film was adapted with Bollywood stars, while in northern Nigeria it was adapted into Hausa. Lowry explained pillars of local action, including strategic distribution and working with local partners to educate and develop new mindsets around girls’ education. George Washington University studied the measurable change from these programs and films and found that girls and boys were much more likely to report that they no longer tolerated gender discrimination. The acute need for sustained movement for girls’ equality has pushed Girl Rising into this long-term project, and it began a series of new films, including this most recent release.

The new release, Brave Girl Rising, tackles the aggravated inequalities faced by girls in refugee camps. Situations of displacement have been shown to worsen inequalities, but these real stories about girls who stand up against their circumstances with courage, combined with strengthening the social movement to inform, inspire, and activate people, are stepping stones to solutions. Written by the poet Warsan Shi, this film covers the life of 17 year old Nassra who plays herself in the story, a top student in a refugee camp in East Africa, a place where hundreds and thousands of Somalis are staying. The verbal imagery and the vivid cinematography of the film paint an intimate portrayal of Nassra’s life in the refugee camp, or in her words, “this damned asylum.” A scene of Nassra and friends walking and being threatened, as well as Nassra’s words, “I have a present but no future,” build the viewer’s empathy, piece by piece. Highlighted is the hope an education and scholarly success afford Nassra, as well as the ability and motivation they give her to move forward without her mother, a loss that, while haunting, motivates her to build sisterhood through strength and resilience with her fellow refugee girls and women.

After the powerful film, the panelists discussed what life is like in a refugee camp, and how girls are directly impacted by conflict. Even for a star pupil like Nassra there are limited options. And yet educating girls strengthens them and eventually their communities, as well.

What’s next for Girl Rising? Lowery spoke about a new series of films that will address the link between girls’ education and climate change, as well as girls’ empowerment through sports. Brave Girl Rising, as previous films have done, left a spark with its viewers. And with more girls being educated, that spark is just the beginning of Girl Rising’s blaze towards a profoundly more equal, less violent, and more courageous world.

The film, Brave Girl Rising can be accessed on YouTube. Visit Girl Rising’s website for ways to get involved and learn more at https://girlrising.org/.

Reach guest writer Riley Grace Borden at rgb32@uw.edu.