Girl Rising is a global movement to help empower girls through education. In supporting their cause they created a documentary that aims to change the way girls in the world have been stigmatized.
Girl Rising journeys around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. Viewers get to know nine unforgettable girls living in the developing world: ordinary girls who confront tremendous challenges and overcome nearly impossible odds to pursue their dreams. Prize-winning authors put the girls’ remarkable stories into words, and renowned actors give them voice. The power of story-telling really engages an audience that might be blind to the types of issues girls around the world face. You can view the documentary here, and you can also arrange to have a screening with friends. These stories are ones that need to be shared in order to have productive conversations about what action can be done to effectively empower the next generation of women.
USAID, (The United States Agency for International Development) pledged $216 million to fund a major women’s empowerment program in Afghanistan. This is the largest women’s empowerment project in US government’s history. Newly-elected President Ghani has reaffirmed his commitment to invest in girls’ education, claiming that educating a girl will have it’s impact on the coming five generations. The funds will be spent through Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote), which aims to advance the opportunities for Afghan women so they can become leaders in the political, private and civil society sectors. The main goal of the Promote program is to strengthen Afghanistan’s development by boosting female participation in the economy, supporting women’s rights groups, helping women gain business and management skills and increasing the number of women in the decision making positions within the Afghan government.
President Ghani’s wife, Rula Ghani, has been outspoken about her commitment to promote greater respect for women and advance women’s rights. As the country’s First Lady, Ms. Ghani’s role in expanding and supporting women’s rights represents both a threat and an asset for Afghan society. The mere fact that Rula Ghani is an American-Lebanese Christian poses serious opposition in a greatly conservative and Muslim society.
“This will be a first for Afghanistan that the first lady is seen in public and this can have a very positive effect on women,” said Shukria Barakzai, a women’s rights advocate and member of Afghan parliament. “This is a male dominated society and a strong woman like her in the palace will make a huge difference. As an Afghan woman, I will be thrilled to see this great woman standing with our new president and advocate for women.”
However, this view is considered too progressive and it’s not shared by a great number of Afghans. According to Mawlawi Habibullah Hussam, an important religious scholar and imam in Kabul, Ms. Ghani’s public presence “can be fatal for the faith of Muslims in Afghanistan.”
A former member of Kabul’s provincial council and conservative who counts with a large following added: “The incoming first lady is not qualified … as she is a non-Muslim so she does not meet [Muslim] piety requirements… She is a foreigner so cannot be the confidant of a Muslim ruler. This is a very serious issue.”
Does Ms. Ghani represent a brighter future for Afghan women? There is a lot of speculation from both advocates and opponents within and outside the country in terms of her power as First Lady to push for girls’ education and gender equality. Former president Karsai’s wife, Zeenat Karzai, was also a well-educated woman, and a doctor by profession, but she never appeared in public with her husband nor worked in support of Afghan women. Ms. Ghani stands as a symbol of hope for many Afghan women who desire a better future for themselves. In the words of an Afghan writer, Asma, women in Afghanistan want Ms. Ghani to be more than a symbol: “Our new First Lady can prove this by showing her face, by asking Afghan women about their difficulties, and by becoming a public figure actively working for women’s rights.”
Thirteen years after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, women in Afghanistan still face serious issues. In a country that has been described by many organizations as one of the worst places for women worldwide, the challenges ahead are substantial. Child marriage, lack of education, lack of economic opportunities, isolation, discrimination, sexual abuse and lack of judicial protection are just some of the many issues that women face daily in Afghanistan.
These inequalities within the society are deeply ingrained in religious dogma. Sharia Law heavily discriminates, punishes and treats women as inferior. In my first post, I raised the question of the role of religion in morality. I dare to raise the question again: up to what point is it acceptable to justify and defend religion when it so evidently discriminates and punishes women? Why do we accept this as normal or justify it by attributing it to a “cultural identity”?
I respect freedom of religion and I do believe that we should all be free to choose the path that makes us better human beings without harming anyone along the way. But how can a path that oppresses, penalizes, is prejudiced and violent against women ever be considered acceptable? I raise my voice against this injustice.
I truly hope that the Promote program is successful in giving a voice to the women in Afghanistan. Their focus is on women’s leadership, women’s participation in government and the economy and women’s rights groups and coalitions. If Rula Ghani wants a brighter future for Afghanistan’s women, she will work together with Promote and be an active advocate for women’s education, empowerment, and equality, and serve as an example for the millions of voices who are desperately crying for change.
In West Africa, the spread of Ebola has reached epidemic proportions and scientists, doctors and governments are scrambling to try and reduce the spread of this deadly disease. However, many communities have not been educated about what they as citizens can do to help combat the disease, until now. In the West Point slum of Monrovia, Liberia, a girls group is knocking on doors and singing songs to alert residents about Ebola and how to prevent the spread of the disease. This simple act is empowering for these girls and could be life-saving for their community and country.
West Point, Liberia is one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the capital of Monrovia. Violence is rampant and lack of proper sanitation leaves the community at risk of contracting and spreading Ebola. Moreover, violence against women has put many girls and women in fear of going out in public, let alone becoming public figures. The girls of A-LIFE are combating that fear and stepping out to help educate their communities. A-LIFE stands for, Adolescents Leading an Intense Fight Against Ebola, and it was started in by UNICEF in 2012, initially to help teach girls about how to protect themselves against sexual violence. However, since Ebola is now a top concern within the country, the girls started learning about the disease and what they could do to protect themselves. Liberia has some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world. Empowering girls with educational tools is not only beneficial for their community, it could also help change the way girls are perceived in the country. There is poor sanitation within West Point and people are not accustomed to properly cleaning themselves. So, the girls of A-LIFE are going door to door, singing songs and alerting people to the spread of Ebola and providing information about how be more sanitary. These girls are using their voice to connect with these citizens and make sure they know about the disease and what they can do to prevent it.
Recently, the World Health Organization reported that of the 10,141 cases and 4,922 deaths from Ebola so far, more than half are in Liberia. Initially, the government of Liberia was criticized for not handling the outbreak of Ebola within the country very well. There was a looting spree in one of the quarantine centers in Monrovia, and people stole blankets, mattresses and other things that could have been infected with the disease. The looters were reported screaming, “there’s no ebola,” after they ransacked the center, which caused many unaccounted people to flee while possibility contracting and spreading the disease. This threat of spreading Ebola made officials impulsive to do something quickly. The government responded with a military quarantine of West Point and had guards prevent anyone from leaving or entering. This resulted in violence and many argued that Liberia’s enforced quarantine was not helping reduce the spread of the disease. Only 10-days after the quarantine was initiated, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lifted the quarantine in response to the clashes between the military and residents, and although people are allowed to move freely within West Point, there is still an enforced curfew from 9pm to 6am.
The distrust Liberians have in the government is what makes the girls of A-LIFE so powerful. They are members of the community, coming out and talking to their neighbors about the dangers of the disease. They are not armed and they use songs and posters to communicate with as many people as they can. They are using information in creative ways to bring public awareness about Ebola and showing skeptics in the community that Ebola is real.
“I feel good educating people about Ebola and helping them see how they can prevent themselves from getting it,” said Jessica Neufville, a 16-year old member of A-LIFE.
The girls have visited over 4,000 homes and they are seeing a change in the behavior in West Point due to their outreach. The government was not able to educate the people of West Point about the disease, so the girls used their voices to help their community understand what they could do to help themselves. It has been reported, that more people now have buckets outside of their homes to wash their hands. Although there is still much work to be done to eradicate Ebola, this grass-roots response from girls is inspiring and strengthens their image as leaders. Hopefully, this educational campaign will help change the way women are perceived within Liberia and help give these girls confidence to continue their work and become even more influential in their community and beyond.
For more information about the A-LIFE girls group in Liberia, you can go to the UNICEF facebook page to stay updated.
Female empowerment in education is a hot topic thanks to one brave young girl. However, media outlets are having a field-day trying to categorize what Malala stands for, instead of listening to what she is actually saying. Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to bringing awareness to girls education within Pakistan. While most Western media outlets are championing Malala as an international leader, reports show that she is still ostracized in her own country of Pakistan. After she became an international icon for female education, the Taliban threatened to kill her.
Her courage for speaking out comes at a cost, but it is extremely admirable to see her continuing her work even when there appears to be danger for her in doing so. She encourages an open dialogue between the Taliban and the government to understand how to create equal access to education for women.
To put things in context, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ rights to education. After that incident, her story got attention from the international community and she was moved to England for treatment. After her recovery she wrote a memoir, I am Malala, which became a best-seller in the U.S. and she became an international idol after becoming the youngest person to win the Nobel Prize. Critiques of Malala have characterized her as a “tool of the west” and some have even gone as far to say that her attack was planned in order for her to become a western hero fighting against orthodox jihad. The media plays an interesting role in discussing Malala and her passion for education. Both Western and Non-Western media outlets tend to put more emphasize on imposed opinion in their pieces, rather than focsuing about the important elements that Malala brings to the discussion about girls access to education. At a recent Conference in Philadelphia, I heard Malala speak about her experiences in Pakistan and in England and the United States. What stood out to me most is that she stated that she is a devote Muslim, loves her home country and this does not mean she cannot also advocate for girls education rights. She spoke beautifully about what being Muslim means to her, and dispels Western myths that Islam is against education and peace.
“Extremists think girls education is not important, but Islam is not against education. That point needs to be clarified…The word Islam means peace. We all need to understand what the real Islam means.” (Yousafzai, 2014)
Malala was very blunt about the violence she saw in Pakistan before she was attacked, however, she was very explicit in not blaming her country, only those that attacked her. She was also enthusiastic, talking about the good that is coming out of Pakistan since her attack.
“In Pakistan there is a big change. Before, no one could come out and talk openly about the Taliban. After I was attacked, people that could not come out against the Taliban came out and said, I am Malala. Now people can speak freely about the Taliban when they couldn’t before.” (Yousafzai, 2014)
She was very diplomatic in talking about how the West can aid in this fight against terrorism. She stated that Western Powers, like the US, can play a role in bringing education to girls in Pakistan and in the rest of the world. In addition, she made a specific request to President Obama when she met him.
“I told President Obama, don’t send bombs, send books, send teachers….drones might kill terrorists but they don’t kill terrorism.” (Yousafzai, 2014)
While Western media sources praise Malala, and on the other side of the world they call out the West for turning this young girl into, “a tool of the west,” one thing is for sure. Malala is not only a champion for women’s rights, she could also be an indirect diplomat to bring peace between the East and West. She is a proud Pakistani and she dreams of going back to her home country, but recognizes the danger in doing so. She has called on the U.S. to stop their military intervention and since she is highly respected for her work in the West, the U.S. should heed her advice, in order to make her dream come true. I believe part of her strength is in her youth. As the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize, the 17 year-old is calling for peace in the name of education. As much as each side can try to demonize the other through various media outlets, there is no denying that Malala wants to go back home to Pakistan and also wants everyone to have the opportunity to go to school. If world powers could work together to make the dream of education and peace a reality, that would be news worth reporting about. Until then, I hope that Malala’s words are left unabridged so that everyone can truly understand what she is fighting for.
How do we deal with religious fundamentalism that becomes so deeply ingrained in the cultures of certain parts of the world and affect so negatively the lives of women? This is an issue I have always struggled with: up to what point can we justify or defend religion when it brings about so many negative consequences especially for women? The so-called “Morality Laws” in Sudan are examples of the serious and detrimental effects that laws based on religious moral codes have on women. President al-Bashir has imposed a conservative Islamist ideology since he came to power in the late 80s and incorporated Sharia Law as part of Sudan’s legal system. Anyone who dares to question or challenge the law will be dutifully punished with anything ranging from flogging to the death penalty. Amira Osman Hamed, a civil engineer from Sudan, is campaigning passionately against such laws after being spared of a public flogging because of “indecent dressing” for failing to cover her hair. Ms. Osman is just one of the thousands of female victims who every year face countless punishments for disobeying the law. According to her, in 2012, 70% of the 43,000 cases sent to the public order courts involved women. Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act used to condemn Ms. Osman states the following:
‘(1) Whoever commits, in a public space, an act, or conducts himself in an indecent manner, or a manner contrary to public morality, or wears an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings, shall be punished, with whipping, not exceeding forty lashes, or with a fine, or with both (2) The act shall be contrary to public morals if it is regarded as such according to the standard of the person’s religion or the custom of the country where the act takes place.’
It is left to the police and local authorities to decide what constitutes “indecent manner” and “public morals,” which in the case of Sudan clearly draws from Sharia Law.
As the international media reignites an interest in the issues of gender equality, it seems like an appropriate time to address the role of religious morality in education. Where does morality come from? I am hesitant to believe it positively draws from religion, especially when there are stark differences from expected moral behavior between men and women. During the past weeks we’ve been studying the role of colonialism as it pertains to development in class. Religion is one of the big “imports” that former colonies inherited. However, it is often difficult to disentangle religion from culture in places like Sudan where both Islam and Christianity were introduced long ago in the first millenium. External factors by virtue of time and history become internal factors capable of causing destruction, war, and genocide. Sudan’s history is one that particularly shows the complexities of foreign influence, religion, colonialism and internal tribal conflicts. The most pressing problem now is that of Islamic Fundamentalism. I believe that bringing light to this issue is a necessary step before we can continue to discuss gender inequality. We need to support women like Ms. Osman in their struggle to demand equal rights and challenge so-called “morality laws” that are nothing other than misogynist, chauvinistic and sexist.
Amnesty.org.uk,. (2014). Amria Osman Hamed. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.amnesty.org.uk/amira-osman-hamed-sudan-woman-headscarf-flog#.VDHfaEu4klJ BBC News,. (2014). Sudan apostasy woman ‘to campaign’. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29399209
Equalrightstrust.org,. (2014). In Search of Confluence: Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Sudan. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.equalrightstrust.org/view-subdocument/index.htm?id=1010 Mutiga, M. (2014). Sudan’s ‘morality’ laws used to punish women, report finds. the Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/02/sudan-morality-laws-women-report
the Guardian,. (2014). Emma Watson’s UN gender equality campaign is an invitation to men, too. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/oct/03/emma-watsons-un-gender-equality-campaign-is-an-invitation-to-men-too