Educate a Girl, Change the World

At Mines and in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in general, men greatly outnumber women. Though only 20 percent of engineering undergraduates in the United States are women, nearly every woman in the U.S. is literate. Compared to Afghanistan’s 12.6 percent female literacy rate, the severity of the STEM gender gap becomes far less significant.

“We’re in a place where it’s remarkable for a girl to be educated in engineering, but we need to remember there are places where it’s remarkable for a girl to be educated, period,” Claire Mahoney said, a freshman who viewed the film “Girl Rising”.

Right now, according to UNESCO, 66 million girls are out of school globally. Furthermore, there are 33 million fewer girls than boys in primary school globally according to Education First. Girls simply face more barriers to receiving an education than boys do.

10×10, a global campaign to educate and empower girls across the developing world, produced the ground-breaking documentary “Girl Rising.” The Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics Program along with the Hennebach Program in the Humanities brought the film to Mines on October 2.

The film follows nine girls from Haiti, Nepal, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Peru, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan who grapple with unimaginable odds in order to achieve their dreams of education.

Suma, a teenager from Nepal, suffered through years of bondage beginning at age six, endured unending abuse, and received no education during her years of servitude.

Wadley, a seven year old from Haiti, lost everything except her mother in the earthquakes that struck Haiti in 2010. She was turned away from school after the disaster because her mom was unable to pay the fee. Wadley persevered, telling the schoolteacher, “If you send me away I will come back every day until I can stay. You cannot stop me.”

Yasmin, a 13 year old from Egypt, was raped as a child, but refused to think of herself as a victim. Her rapist is still free, Yasmin has never been to school, and, barely a teenager, Yasmin is engaged.

Though the girls live a world away from each other, they share a desire to learn—a desire to better themselves and escape the stereotypes that pervade in their regions. However, educating women is not a priority in many developing countries. Many girls are sold as child brides. In fact, 14 million girls under 18 will be married this year. Others girls, an estimated of 150 million a year, are victims of sexual violence.

Kim Burnett from the Shadhika Foundation, an organization devoted to combating gender inequality in India, believes in the power of educating women and the need to redefine social stereotypes. Burnett spoke before the film as part of a panel on the need for women’s education.
Burnett said, “the expectation is that girls should not work. Girls are there to serve the husband’s family. Frankly, as girls have gotten more education, that has been challenging that system. In some ways, the progress we’re making in girls’ education means we have to help the boys catch up and begin to change how they perceive women.”

Research has shown the power of educating women. According to CIA World Factbook, if India enrolled one percent more girls in secondary school, their GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult according to the World Bank, and girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children according to the National Academies Press.

“If you care about eradicating poverty, about eliminating hunger or HIV Aids, about addressing our overpopulation on the planet, about promoting democracy, and combating extremis, the key to all of those things is making sure a girl has an education,” Burnett said.

Another showing of “Girl Rising” is scheduled for Thursday Oct. 10 in Ballroom A of the Student Center.

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