Girl Rising: Girls empower, not overpower

With Nimra Bucha and Mehreen Ilahi joining the ambassadors’ list, Girl Rising makes its way into Pakistan.

Nida Ameen December 20, 2013
With Nimra Bucha and Mehreen Ilahi joining the ambassadors’ list, Girl Rising makes its way into Pakistan.


What started out as a feature-length documentary has now turned into a full-fledged movement; Girl Rising has emerged with the aim of educating young girls and empowering them to make their own decisions in life. Screened at the Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi on December 17, Girl Rising targets a social issue that most Pakistani women can easily relate to, and reminds us that we are not alone in dealing with it. Through groundbreaking visual storytelling, Girl Rising sheds light on the powerful and transformative impact of education (or the lack thereof) through the tales of 9 young girls from third world countries around the globe.

Alyzeh Amer, a member of the core team of Girl Rising Pakistan, says “We are not an official NGO or under any organisational banner. We are just Pakistani citizens who were moved by this film and wanted to share it with others.”

Amer, among others, has laid out a great platform for Pakistanis to address the biggest social obstacle the world faces in the 21st century. Famed personalities like actor Nimra Bucha, film-maker Mehreen Ilahi, writer Bina Shah and singer Zoe Viccaji have all actively enrolled themselves as ambassadors of the campaign.

The evidence of the screening’s influence was apparent by the fact that there was not a dry eye in the audience as the credits started to roll, and in the heart-warming speeches given by these ambassadors. Surgeon Fahad Mirza was struck speechless at when he placed his sisters in the desperate positions of some of the girls in the film and felt a chill of fear travel down his spine.

“A lot of people questioned the effectiveness of showing this film to the elite class of society, the assumed ‘enlightened’ ones, who send their daughters to school, seek employment or chose who they marry,” says Amer. “While we may be physically free, I believe our minds have been trapped, moulded by society to think and behave in a certain manner and be bound by limitations.”

“To me, Girl Rising is a movement to seek freedom from that mental tyranny and think for ourselves, think about how we chose to live our lives and how we can change the lives of those around us, to have the courage to stand up for our rights and what we believe in, and to tell society and the patriarchy ‘no’ when they try to tell us otherwise.”


Nine reasons why Girl Rising guarantees heartfelt inspiration

Education is an advocate of change – a simple yet striking message that the Girl Rising documentary demonstrates rather imaginatively. Directed by Richard E Robbins, Girl Rising is an uplifting story of nine girls striving to learn among those who suffer constant deprivation from nine different parts of the world. Each vignette is presented by nine notable writers from each of the regions and narrated by nine iconic actors, including Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Priyanka Chopra. All the girls we meet in this film face situations like child marriage, sexual assault, bonded labour & extreme poverty, much like many Pakistani girls. Although, the movie is stylistically breath taking, it is not the star power or the cinematography that move us. Rather, it is the brutal reality of the innocent nine lives, and the way they persevere, that inspires the viewer. The reasons why Girl Rising is a must-see movie for 2013 lies in the true stories of those nine triumphant girls:


1. Sokha from Cambodia

Cambodia has been hamstrung on insufficiency and illiteracy for ages now and Sokha, like many, was a production of that. Orphaned and thrown in the dump, Sokha spends days shuffling through garbage until miracles land her a privilege not many are entitled to in Cambodia – education. In an instant her story emphasises that education is a treasure and brilliance does not need a lavish home to foster in. It can come out of a dump just like diamonds are found in mounts of coal.


2. Wadley from Haiti

Young Wadley is like any other girl from the developing countries who, despite living in poverty, has her own little world where dreams bloom like flowers. Her story reminds us that in this unpredictable life, poverty may not be the worst thing that can happen to someone. Her inspiring story shows how people who manage to stand up for themselves and are determined to make the impossible possible will eventually succeed. Set in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, Wadley’s yearning to attend school challenges the superficial notion that education is only for the those that can afford it, and reinforces the age old adage -  where there is a will, there is always a way.


3. Suma from Nepal

Hers is a story that is probably deemed the most gut-wrenching of all, and the one that is the most shameful for the privileged class in Pakistan. Her narration of her time in bonded servitude instills the realisation that the little girl doing your house chores for a mere wage of Rs5,000 should be studying in school for a brighter future, instead of ironing your clothes in the wee hours of the morning. If Suma’s desperation, her struggle for equality and her means of finding solace don’t move you to tears and evoke a feeling of greasy guilt then you are extremely cold-hearted.


4. Yasmin from Egypt

Innocence cannot be hurt even with the sharpest of daggers. Yasmin’s innocence defies the increasing instances of sexual brutality that underage girls are often subjected to at the hands of predatory men, even in Pakistan. Considering her young age, Yasmin’s strength and unbreakable spirit are commendable. However, her story symbolises the unfortunate chain of illiteracy – how the lack of education can blur the lens through which one observes what is happening in their own life and how it hinders the evolution of a strong soul and locks it in draconian traditions. Needless to say, education prepares one for worst-case scenarios, and Yasmin’s tragedy reinforces just that.


5. Azmera from Ethopia

In most places in the third world, it appears that a struggle for education and a freedom of choice is only a woman’s fight and men have conveniently excused themselves from it. However, Azmera’s story is a perfect testament on how sometime, despite a lack of education, men can stand up for their women. Like most of those living in rural, poor areas, poverty and concern overwhelms Azmera’s mother, but it is her own brother who emerges as her savior and is prepared to make sacrificesto enrich Azmera’s life with education. It will inspire you to put yourself in his shoes and eye the world without any preconceived notions of patriarchy.


6. Ruksana from India

India has long been a victim of female infanticide, and Ruksana’s story is an inspiring tale of a case where it is irrelevant what gender category a child belongs to. Ruksana’s tent along the pavement is a sad excuse for a home, but despite crippling poverty, her father continues to pour his blood and sweat into his work to provide his daughters with education and a little colour in their lives. No matter how many problems life throws at her family, and how many days they starve, Ruksana remains positive and hopeful with a sketchbook in one tiny hand and a handful of crayons in the other.


7. Senna from Peru

Living in the world’s harshest town, isolated from even the most basic of necessities, Senna pursues her dead father’s dream with the heart of a warrior. She joins school because her father believed that education is fortune and soon, finds it to be a precious gem herself. Having the soul of an artist, Senna writes poems to find strength against life’s hardships. Where girls mostly prioritise work over education, Senna becomes part of the few who don’t let life bring them down. Knowledge is power, and in Senna’s story, we celebrate that.


8. Mariama from Sierra Leone

Mariama is an example of independence, freedom and enlightenment in the developing parts of the world. She presents the other side of the story, the happier side of a young girl that has a glowing smile permanently affixed to her face. She informs us that while there are innumerable people who suffer the atrocities of impoverishment, there are also those who grow with changing times. Mariama speaks up against the narrow minds of society that can deter us from attaining our dream; an issue that strikes very close to home for most of us in Pakistan who live in close-knit communities.


9. Amina from Afghanistan

Amina’s story is no different from what we witness on TV and news channels day and night. Constant exposure to such stories and cruelty loses its impact and we tend to become desensitised to it all. Amina’s story revives our disgust in a barbarous orthodoxy that sees a young girl fit to marry as early as nine and become a mother before she is even in her teens. Although, the depiction of her story is open to criticism, it nevertheless inspires us to voice our concerns and make a contribution for those who are bound by such strict shackles of convention.

If you would like to set up a screening, contact:

E-mail: [email protected]

Phone Number: Roohi Abdullah: 0345 2191830

Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2013.

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RA | 7 years ago | Reply

The correct spelling is "Alizeh". Kindly correct the error. Thanks

RJ | 7 years ago | Reply

It's a great initiative and I am glad to be informed about it.. Although i feel these things are often more promotional than actually helpful

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