Girl Rising: Ethiopia by Danielle R. Gershen


In many developing countries around the world, girls of all ages face inequalities not because of their class but because of their gender. Girl Rising, a documentary made in 2013, touches on the stories of nine girls. The stories we see are only a few out of the tens of thousands that occur around the world. The fight for rights of girls has come a long way in the past decade, however, there is so much more work to do. No matter the law passed, families around the world continue to fight for the right to girl's education. This is the story of a girl named Melka, and the difference she is making in Ethiopia by using her own experiences to benefit the lives of hundreds of girls.

The Inequalities

Education: Many girls in Ethiopia are facing an education barrier. Most girls make it through primary school, but less than 20% continue to secondary school. This is because they are forced or encouraged to stay home and work to support their families. Boys, on the other hand, continue their education since they bring the money into the family. While, women on average complete around 80% of the agricultural work in Ethiopia. The fear of sexual and physical violence have also led parents to take their children out of school because they fear that their kids will be abducted on the way to class.

Marriage: Back in 2014, lawmakers made it illegal for a girl to get married before the age of 18; however, families still find ways around this by having secret ceremonies. They do this because it follows a strong cultural tradition and allows the family to make more money. Around 41% of girls are married before 18. On a more serious note, 74% of women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), which is a historical culture practice in Ethiopia.

The Feeling in the Moment

A girl named Melka, one of the nine girls in Girl Rising, shares her feelings and reactions from the night of her wedding, at age 14:

"I just wanted to get out of there. I tried to run but they beat me. After the wedding he took me to his house in the next village, he was so old, he started pushing me towards the bedroom. I didn’t want to go inside, but no one wanted to listen to me, they just kept pushing. His friends beat me. It's hard to remember they just kept beating me until I went in. I woke up in the hospital, my body was aching, I could barely open my eyes, I couldn’t even move. I was there for about 30 days."

This moment in particular stood out to me, because I believe that it shows the core of the meaning and experience of Melka's story. Her words brings the listener into her shoes and gives them the ability to sense the way she was feeling at the time. Melka's early marriage also didn't allow her to go back to school, rather she started to work in order to support her family. While Melka's experience is just one example, between 50-60% of girls in Ethiopia face sexual and physical violence.

The Fight

Along with Melka's work to educate girls on their rights and intervene on illegal weddings, many organizations have taken action in Ethiopia, and all across the world, to fight back. Some of these organizations include USAID, WomanKind, Siiqqee, and AWSAD. Each of these groups focus on different issues, whether it be raising awareness, fighting against illegal marriages, or helping women recover from domestic violence.

“It was hard, but I’ve come out stronger than before this happened. I was shy and I couldn’t even look people in the eye now I’m not scared of anything." -Melka

The Outcome

In 2015, the Government of Ethiopia pledged to end child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2025. Along with this statement, the first ever Ethiopia National Girls Summit was held in Addis Ababa, later that year. The Girl Summit orginization has since then expanded to many other countries including Guatemala, Uganda, India, Malawi and Liberia. This movement has started to impact the lives of many girls, through funding they have given these girls access to education. Below is a picture of the 2015 participants, in Ethiopia:

National Girl Summit organization was founded only one year before, in 2014, in London. Press Play below to watch a video to listen to highlights from speakers like the Deputy PM of Ethiopia and of many activists.


In Ethiopia, cultural beliefs and educational opportunities influence a girl’s life in many ways. Though girls are allowed to go to school, many are unable due to a lack of money in the family or an arranged marriage set up by a girl’s parents. In Melka’s case, and in the case of many others, her culture was emotionally affecting her, making her shy. But, she took her experience and made it into changing point in her life. She became stronger as she started to educate younger girls and realize that she can make a difference. With her work and the work of many others, including the government, Ethiopia is seing a needed change.

Works Cited:

  • "Ethiopia." Where We Work | Womankind. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
  • "Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment." Ethiopia | U.S. Agency for International Development. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
  • "Girl Summit: One Year On." Girleffect. YouTube. YouTube, 23 July 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
  • "Media Centre." UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa - Media Centre - Ethiopia, 25 June 2015: Efforts boosted to end child marriage and FGM/C by 2025 at the National Girl Summit. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
  • "Standing Up to Early Marriage: Melka's Story." Girl Rising. YouTube. YouTube, 22 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
  • "Stories." Girl Up. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.

To watch all of Melka's inspirational story, click the play button:


Created with images by DFID - UK Department for International Development - "Increase in education = decrease in child marriage" • Stijn Debrouwere - "Fourth-graders attending class" • DFID - UK Department for International Development - ""I guess that's the groom"" • DFID - UK Department for International Development - "Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador for Ethiopia, speaking at Girl Summit 2014" • D-Stanley - "Young Woman in Jinka" • Trocaire - "DSCN0418" • D-Stanley - "Girl Near Jiinka" • D-Stanley - "Tutu Fella Girl" • DFID - UK Department for International Development - "Escaping child marriage"

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