Using Storytelling to Create Social Change

Violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally. Not malnutrition or accidents or cardiovascular disease or maternal conditions. Violence. In fact, among girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide, almost one quarter (around 70 million) have reported experiencing some form of physical violence since the age of 15. These shocking statistics can leave one feeling overwhelmed, confused, and angry. Luckily there are many out there working to change the lives of girls for the better.

Rebecca Barry wasn’t on the course to advocate for the health and rights of girls and women, but her life took a turn in 2009 while on holiday in Samoa. What happened inspired her to find a way to use her skills and resources to raise awareness and connect others looking to create change. Girls Globe recently sat down with the director and producer of I AM A GIRL to talk about what girls in the world are facing today, and how we can all work to make a difference.

Katie; c/o I AM A GIRL
Katie; c/o I AM A GIRL

How did the idea for I AM A GIRL come about? 

Barry: In 2009 I was lucky enough to survive a tsunami while on holiday in Samoa. This event was the most frightening and leveling experience of my life. With my brush with death came a realization that perhaps for the first time, I did not have control, in those moments, over my life and its outcomes. I came to understand that for many (if not most) girls in the world today, this is a feeling they live with everyday.

Soon after, I was reading a magazine article about the plight of girls and was moved to tears. Despite technological advances and the abundance of wealth, we live in a world that openly discriminates against girls. They are not religious or political activists … they are girls. It is from this basis alone from which the most incomprehensible violence, health issues and abuse transpires.

Knowing this information brought me to the point where I asked myself the question, what can I do about this? I decided to make I AM A GIRL, which could reach out to a broader audience to inform others and to give people the opportunity to connect and do something through partnerships.

The film is a fantastic example of blending social impact with storytelling. What did you hope for it?

Barry: I AM A GIRL was my first attempt at social impact storytelling and it is very addictive. I have since co-founded Media Stockade (http://mediastockade.com/) which is a production company whose primary focus is creating and distributing social impact films that can be used to facilitate debate, conversation and get people thinking, feeling and acting differently about social issues.

Can a film change the way we think? Or even change these grotesque statistics. I truly believe it can. My vision for I AM A GIRL is pure and simple – to weave a universal story through the voices of girls in various locations around the world, dealing with different challenges.

HABIBA_IMG_0993
Habiba; c/o I AM A GIRL

How has the film been received since its 2013 release?

Barry: The film has had extraordinary impact! It has screened at film festivals around the world and has been nominated for several awards, as well as been critically acclaimed. It has been picked up by individuals and organizations who have screened the film as a fundraiser and community builder. It has been incredible to hear these stories of impact and outreach! I AM A GIRL has helped raised funds to send two girls to University in Kabul, Afghanistan for a year, put 40 girls from low socio economic backgrounds through self esteem workshops, and to fund an art art therapy program for survivors of domestic violence. And that’s just a few of the amazing examples of impact that have occurred.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Barry: The biggest challenge was finding the resources to make the film. We funded the film through philanthropy and assembled an incredible coalition of partners to help bring the film to the big screen. Another challenge was getting my head around filming in Afghanistan which was a war zone at the time. As small crew made up of two women certainly didn’t pick the easiest of countries to film in!

How did the film impact your life?

Barry: The film has had a huge impact on my life. I have met the most inspiring people through the film and it has given me so much hope having connected with the incredible work of individuals and organisations around the world. I have moved on from a place of despair to now thinking that we are heading in the right direction in regards to gender equality. Professionally, the film has given me a focus and I have started to say to myself that I need to do more in area of girl empowerment.

Breani; c/o I AM A GIRL
Breani; c/o I AM A GIRL

Do you have future plans for I AM A GIRL?

Barry: We are currently releasing the film in the United States through the Cinema on Demand Platform called Gathr. This platform means that anyone can request to bring the film to their local cinema no matter where they are. All you have to do is go to the website and type in your zip code to find a screening near you! If there isn’t one, you can request a screening. Gathr organizes everything – you just have to share the screening with your community, friends and family. It’s very simple and our hope is that everyone will become a part of the I AM A GIRL tribe and bring the film to their local communities.

Within global advocacy, we see the power of storytelling. What do you hope storytelling does for girls and women of the world?

Barry: Storytelling and testimony is a human right. Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” 

How wonderful it is to hear girls’ stories in their own voices talking about their hopes and dreams. The more stories we hear from women and girls the more powerful we become. Storytelling is a way to share these stories and empower change. If we see and hear their stories we cannot ignore them.

We couldn’t agree more! What’s next for you in the world of empowering change?

Barry: I am currently working on a few different projects as producer through Media Stockade. My next directing opportunity will be a drama set in Afghanistan.

Kimsey; c/o I AM A GIRL
Kimsey; c/o I AM A GIRL

You found a great way to use your skills and resources to create change. What advice would you give to the every day person looking to make an impact in the lives of girls?

Barry: Anyone can make an impact in the lives of girls. The thing to do is ask yourself, “what can I do?” Are you a teacher, a parent, an employer? Look for what you are good and apply a gender lense. Even by simply starting a conversation with your friends, colleagues, sons, and community you are making an impact. Even better you can organize a screening of I AM A GIRL at your local cinema!

For more information, visit I AM A GIRL.

#ShowYourSelfie: Girls Should Be Free From Violence

Several weeks ago I received the joyous news that a new baby girl will join my sister’s family this Spring. When my six-year-old niece was born I had the privilege of helping my sister through labor and experienced the miracle of birth. Watching new life come into the world is one of the most amazing experiences. I am overjoyed with the news of another niece on the way and will have the same incredible opportunity.

Callie and Tia
With my niece right after her birth

As I think about my beautiful niece, my nephew and the impending arrival of another sweet girl I think of all of the possibilities ahead of them. Sports activities, extra-curricular classes, school dances, college, job opportunities and having a family are life events they will experience. My niece, a very bright and outspoken six-year-old loves to read, play soccer and knows she can talk to her parents about anything.

One of the greatest things about being an aunt is the opportunity to experience and talk with them about the exciting moments in their lives. As my two nieces grow up together, the reality is they will be free to complete their education, go to college and choose if and when to get married and have children. Recently, my niece asked me, “Tia, when do you think I will get married and have children?” My response was simple:

You can choose.

As I think about their lives, I can not help but think of the reality facing most adolescent girls around the world. Instead of finishing their education, one in three girls in low to middle income countries will be married before they turn eighteen years old. Many of these girls are not much older than my niece when they are given away as child brides. Sixteen million adolescent girls give birth every year, many of them and their babies will not survive. Girls face threats of sexual assault daily, while walking to and from school, on public transportation, or while going to the bathroom. Every day, girls as young as five are forced to undergo a practice called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM, the partial or total removal of a young girl’s genitals for non-medical reasons, harms her body and leaves lasting physical and emotional effects. Choice is simply not an option.

Girls are the future.

Like my nieces, girls around the world hold amazing potential. I have had the privilege to meet so many of them. They are organizational leaders, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, leaders, activists and decision-makers. We must protect them. Over the next 18 months, global leaders are creating a development agenda for the next fifteen years. Adolescent girls need to be at the heart of this agenda. In the post-2015 agenda, we must strengthen policies and systems that provide protection for adolescent girls from violence and harmful practices. As I wrote in a recent Huffington Post article, girls’ voices are valuable and need to be heard. I want to see their potential realized and strengthened.

As the post-2015 framework develops, #ShowYourSelfie is a visual petition and a powerful way to empower young people to be seen and heard by global leaders. Through this campaign, as a young person, I declare that all girls should be able to live free from violence. Let’s continue to work together and fight for their rights in the post-2015 agenda.

Want to take action?

Participate in the #ShowYourSelfie campaign and be the change for girls!

September 21st-26th Girls’ Globe will be in New York for the 2014 UN General Assembly. We are partnering with Johnson & Johnson, FHI360 and Women Deliver in support of the UN Foundation’s Every Woman Every Child to amplify the global conversation on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. Follow #MDG456Live, raise your voice and join the conversation to advance women and children’s health. Sign up for the Daily Delivery and to read engaging blog posts, watch interviews and more. 

Growing Dreams: Help Educate Girls In Myanmar

Here in the United States, ask a girl what she wants to be when she grows up and her answer may be nurse, teacher, astronaut, senator or even president. The possibilities are limitless.  In Myanmar, a country steeped in extreme poverty, where people lack even the most basic human rights, you will hear no such answer. Girls in Myanmar typically imagine a job that takes them no further than the family farm or the local fish market.

Why the disparity?

In addition to the oppressive government, ongoing conflicts, natural disasters and displacement that have plagued the country, education is simply not attainable for many – most of all girls.

Only half of Burmese girls complete primary education.  For most, the quality of the education is inadequate and typically based on rote memorization.  One in every four girls who has attended primary school is still unable to read simple sentences about everyday life.

Although government schools are free, parents still need to pay for uniforms, supplies, and in some cases bribes to teachers to ensure their children receive attention.

When parents choose which child they can afford to educate, it is always the boys.  Girls, victims of gender disparity, are pulled out of school to work.

Girls who are educated dream big.  Education opens up endless opportunities. Education builds girls’ dreams and transforms lives.

Educational Empowerment helps ensure Burmese girls realize their dreams.

Some girls, unable to afford government schools, attend schools established in Buddhist monasteries – schools which truly are free. Many girls in these schools have been sent by their families from remote ethnic areas to be educated and safe. These girls, often as young as 4, must cope with the trauma of family separation.

One of these schools, located in a poor township outside Yangon, is Maw Kyun, attended by 582 children, half of whom are girls. These girls are learning critical thinking skills, which give them the ability to identify and solve problems.  Since their township does not  have electricity or fresh water, solving problems is essential to their existence.

Photo Credit: Edu Empowerment
Photo Credit: Edu Empowerment

Wint Yi, like 25% of other girls in Myanmar, lives below the poverty line, with a family income of less than $1.25 per day. Fifty percent of her peers will only go to school through the fifth grade.

Unlike, many other girls, Wint Yi has a dream. She knows there is a world beyond her village.  She goes to a school supported by Educational Empowerment.  Wint Yi is one of the fortunate girls in Myanmar.

Girls’ access to quality education should be a basic human right.  Investing in girls’ education bolsters their dignity, saves mother’s and children’s lives, and improves the socio-economic status of the entire community.

Help girls attain their right to education.  Empower others, like Wint Yi, to dream BIG.

Want to take action?

  • Donate to Educational Empowerment
  • Organize an event for International Day of the Girl, October 11th, to create awareness for girls’ right to education
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Meet Wint Yi


 

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org

Follow @EEmpower, on FacebookInstagram

Educational Empowerment (EE) was created by women for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities in Myanmar severely affected by poverty and injustice. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women Myanmar to attain their equal rights. 

Her Story, Her Dream

Written by: Fonda Sanchez, Founder of Education for Equality International 

If we listened to the voices of women and girls, what would we hear?

How would their stories make a difference?

While completing my graduate practicum with an NGO that focuses on increasing primary school enrollment and literacy rates for girls in Rajasthan, India, I had the privilege of meeting a young girl named Rekha. During field visits, I met many teen girls who had completed primary school, but were not enrolled in secondary. 

Education for Equality International
Photo Credit: Fonda Sanchez

Rekha was fourteen and recently married to a young man a couple years older than her. As is custom for many new brides in India, she went to live with her new husband and his family. Upon arrival into the family, Rekha’s in-laws prohibited her from continuing her education. She did not expect that early marriage would result in lost opportunity. Rekha’s husband had never completed secondary school and therefore her in-laws would not allow her to attend. In other words, as a young girl they did not want Rekha’s education level higher than their son’s.

Rekha was determined to re-enroll and complete secondary school regardless of her in-laws restrictions.

The opportunity to attend secondary school was important to Rekha. She was not concerned about the consequences of pursuing her dreams. Through her story, I saw the reality of many girls around the world. I left India before I learned if Rekha was able to return to school.

After finishing my master’s degree, I thought about returning to India. I began looking through old photographs and reminiscing about the people I had met and learned so much from. I came across Rekha’s photo and thought about her story. I knew she was not alone and that many girls like her are discriminated against on a daily basis simply because they are girls.

Education for Equality International (EEI) was created for and inspired by girls who struggle to achieve their dreams. These girls want to see a better life for themselves and their community, set their own limits and not be limited because of their gender. EEI developed because all girls and women should have the right to pursue an education. Our mission is to increase girls’ access to secondary education in developing countries.

This year EEI plans to implement its first program to support secondary school fees and expenses for 10 girls living in rural village in Maharashtra, India. We partner with a school and have built a strong relationship with the girls and school administration. EEI is in the process of raising funds for this program but the dream does not stop there.

EEI has partnered with a small NGO called Maa Education India (MEI) based in Udaipur, India. Their mission is to provide free primary education to boys and girls from low-income families, living in the rural village of Amod. Together we are developing a program to support secondary education costs for girls to attend a private school in Udaipur because there is no school available to them in their immediate village. EEI is also working with MEI to reach girls who work as cattle and goat herders to increase their literacy and writing skills.

In this work it is important to  know the data regarding the plight of girls’ education worldwide, and to acknowledge, and recognize the countless stories for every girl who makes up those numbers. I know I am not alone in this.

Let’s take the stories we have heard and make an impact that will change her world.

Please visit us at www.eduequal.org and follow us on Twitter @eduequalorg

Young #WomenInspire us to #InvestInGirls

Originally published on The Huffington Post’s Global Motherhood section

March is an exciting time to celebrate girls and women. Women’s History Month commemorates the pioneers of women’s rights and equality, past and present. International Women’s Day encourages us all to continue the fight for women’s rights around the world. And this week, the United Nations 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women revives our commitments to build a better future for girls and women everywhere.

This March, however, also marks a particularly critical time for women’s health and rights: For the first time in over a decade, we have an opportunity to shape a brand new global development agenda. The 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) generated unprecedented political will and funding for girls’ and women’s health and rights. Unfortunately though, the MDGs are quickly coming to an end just when we are beginning to gain momentum.

As we enter this next chapter, we must ensure that our tremendous progress toward women’s health and rights flourishes — not falters. We have an opportunity to share best practices, examine remaining challenges and contribute to a new set of goals that prioritize girls and women. One way of the best ways to imagine what the future of development truly looks like is to engage and listen to young women.

Young women — and young men — have innovative solutions and unlimited potential to improve girls’ and women’s health in their communities. But all too often, they do not have the means to turn their ideas into impact. Through an exciting new Initiative of the Women Deliver C-Exchange10 Young Leaders were selected from a pool of Women Deliver’s 100 Young Leaders to receive $5,000 seed grants for local girls’ and women’s health projects and campaigns. These projects are a part of an online voting competition that will allow the public to vote for the project they believe will have the greatest impact, and the winner will receive an additional $500 for his or her project.

Four of these C-Exchange grantees are themselves young women who inspire. They are fierce and savvy leaders, rising the ranks and paving the way to a brighter, more equitable future for girls and women in their communities and beyond. These powerful young leaders inspire us to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

Cecilia García Ruiz will implement a project to help young Mexican mothers speak out about their sexual and reproductive health needs with the organization she works with in Mexico City, Espolea.

Chukwudera Bridget Okeke from Nigeria works with Concern Women International Development Initiative and will focus her work on reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS among female sex workers and their clients.

Maureen Anyango Oduor from Tanzania will launch “Plan at Hand Girl Empowerment Project,” which uses mobile technology to deliver reproductive health education and services to adolescent girls.

And finally, Nargis Shirazi will run her FRESH (Full and Richly Empowered About Sexual Health) Campaign with WO-MAN Foundation Uganda, inspiring creative solutions to improve the reproductive health of Uganda’s urban youth.

Due to increased investments in girls and women, Cecilia’s, Bridget’s, Maureen’s and Nargis’ work is undoubtedly improving the lives of girls and women from Mexico City to Kampala. Now, it is time to expand their reach by raising their voices. As Plan International Global Youth Advocate Humaira said during her opening remarks at CSW 58 this Monday, “Our voices were not heard in the last round of development goals, but we will make sure are voices are heard this time.”

The Women Deliver C-Exchange is a forum of corporate partners, including Bayer, General Electric, HRAPharma, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and WomenCare Global, that launched at Women Deliver 2013. The C-Exchange supports programs and activities that have a direct impact on girls and women.

Who Inspires You?

Share your stories of women who inspire you with Girls’ Globe and Johnson & Johnson this month, and read the stories that we will be publishing here throughout the month!

  • Join the conversation using #WomenInspire and tweet us a story of a woman who inspires you! We will collect these stories to spread the inspiration that women and girls give us.

Editor’s Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of The Huffington Post’s Global Motherhood section.

Invest in Girls & Women: Everybody Wins – New Toolkit from Women Deliver

Today, Women Deliver launched a new advocacy toolkit with the reasons for investing in women and girls as a pathway for sustainable development.

This great new toolkit includes infographics, key messages and statistics to help you communicate the importance of investing in women and girls now and in the Post-2015 agenda. Be inspired and use the toolkit to step up efforts to advocate for the rights and health of women and girls worldwide.

Let’s ensure everyone understands the importance to invest in girls and women!

Below are three of their great infographics. Find the rest of the infographics here.

Infographic_InvestInGirlsAndWomen_FINAL

 

Infographic_MaternalHealth_FINAL

Infographic_Equality_FINAL

Join the online conversation using #InvestInGirls!