Girl Rising Madi Coyne

We know nothing

As we go through our lavish lives within the Princeton Day School community, it is quite easy to forget how lucky we all really are. We learn on laptops, eat in an eco-friendly cafeteria, and are taught by some of the best teachers in the state. We have the world at our disposals, and many us take this for granted. While we enjoy the luxuries our lives provide, there are millions of children, especially little girls, in developing countries that would love to have even a fraction of the opportunities provided to us. In the AP Human Geography course, we are introduced to only a sliver of the hardships girls around the world face. Those trapped in communities that are controlled by men and favor males in general are stripped of their opportunities to succeed and thrive the way a man might. But, there are a few women who have been advocating and fighting for women's rights in developing countries, and some of their stories have been documented in a film entitled Girl Rising. While there are many women and girls who have risked heir lives to tell their stories in this documentary, we focused on three in particular: Suma, Mariama, and Amina. These three have had many struggles in their lives, but have managed to continue on and strive to change the lives of others.

A girl enslaved

Suma’s story is the saddest of the ones studied by the class. Suma was a kamlari, a bound worker in the country of Nepal. At the age of 6, Sumac’s parents sold her services to a man who treated her like a slave. A few years later, she was sold to a couple who made her work and sleep in a barn like an animal. She stripped corn ears day and night for about 2 years. She began singing and writing songs help ease her suffering. Then, at the age of 11, she was sold into her third and final home as a kamlari. In that home, her life took a turn for the better. Living in that house was a man who is also a school teacher, and he began to teach Suma how to read and write. Not long after Suma began working at his home, the man enrolled her in night classes with other kamlari taught by female school teachers. Suma remarked that during those classes, she was more happy than she had ever been in her entire life. She and the other kamlari in her classes shared stories of what their lives entailed with their teachers, who were shocked at what they heard. After a while, those teachers plucked up the courage to confront many of the men who “owned” their students, including Sumac’s master. Her teachers came to her door every day to bring the laws against the owning of bounded servants in Nepal to the attention of her master, and after weeks of convincing and pleading, they brought her home to her mother and father. Now, Suma does what her former teachers did; she travels to the homes of known kamlari owners and advocates for their freedom. She was able to take control of her new, free life, and instead of wallowing in the horrors she faced as a child, she took her experiences and uses them to help others in need.

The future of radio broadcasting

Marima on the other hand is a bit more privileged than Suma and Amina (the final girl we studied). She grew up in Sierra Leone in Africa. She owns a cell phone, hangs out with friends, goes to school, and even has a job at a trendy radio station called Eagle Africa, 91.3. On this channel, she gets calls from listeners about problems in their every day lives, and she attempts to give them advice. She once helped a girl move from her abusive aunt's house back into her mothers house and go to school! Her father, however, was not a fan of her working at the radio station. He was getting criticized by other members of their community for letting his daughter project herself for hundreds of people to hear and for letting her hang out with her friends late at night. One night, Marima’s father stormed in on her and her friends and took her home, furious at her for no reason. He told her she had to stop working at Eagle Africa. She begged and pleaded to no avail. After a while, and with some convincing from another woman in the community that believed in Mariama, her father allowed her to regain her job at Eagle Africa, with the condition that she come home right after work. Mariama continues to help people with their problems, and hopes to have a reality show one day on which she is able to help others on a larger scale. God only knows what she will accomplish if she only puts her mind to it.

Damaged but not broken

The final story we studied involves a woman named Amina. But in reality, her name is not actually Amina. We are not provided with her real name. All of the other girls featured in Girl Rising play themselves when acting out their stories, but Amina is different from the others. An actress was hired to depict her life and her name was changed to keep her real identity hidden. If her father or brothers (or any other man in her community for that matter) were to find out that she shared her life with reporters, she would be killed, so for our purposes, she is called Amina. Women have close to no personal rights in Afghanistan, her home country. When Amina’s mother gave birth to her, she cried out in anguish when finding out that her child was a girl. She wanted to be known for baring males, and knew how hard of a life her daughter would have for merely being female. Amina’s mother, a completely uneducated woman, discarded her as her child, and let her father put her to work starting at the age of 3. She would keep the ouse clean, wash clothes, and when she got a little older, she held her siblings on her back until they were able to walk. She had a few years of schooling in her youth, and just like Suma, said that those were the happiest moments of her childhood. These happy memories ended when her father sold her to her cousin to be married to him. Her ignorant mother sat idly by and allowed such a transaction to take place. They sold her for what translates to be about 5,000 US dollars, which was put into buying a used car for Amina’s older brother. She was only 11 when she was married to her cousin, and on her wedding night, he impregnated her. Consequently, 9 months later, Amina gave birth to her first child, and she was beyond relieved to find out that she bore a male. Through her teenage years, she raised her son and other children, and finally left Afghanistan to fight for women’s rights. She fights for equality and for the illegality of child marriage the way no one fought for her. For this, she is a hero.

The disadvantages of being female

In the USA, there are only minor discrepancies concerning men and women being equally treated. There are campaigns for equal pay, equal opportunity and equal rights. However, the USA is leaps and bounds ahead of many undeveloped countries terms of the way women are treated. In other cultures, women have no independent rights, and can even be considered the property of whatever male authority figure they have in their lives (father, brother, husband.) Societies views on where women fall on the "food chain" impacts every aspect of their lives, especially something as simple as education. Many young women and girls are still forced to stay at home and take care of the house while their brothers and husbands go to school or work. Depending on the beliefs of ones culture, the amount of education a young girl may acquire may vary dramatically. For example, Mariama, who lives in Sierra Leone (a country which is quite accepting of women) was given free access to education, while Afghani born Amina (who lives in a country that basically makes women their slaves) was lucky to be able to go to school for a few years in her very early childhood. Many other girls in even less developed countries have even less educational opportunities than these girls. It's incredible to see how unmodernized a community an be to keep women out of the work force, when in reality, some of these bright people could help make the world a better place.

A message from a privileged girl

As I have gone through the process of researching these girls and where they come from, I have learned so much about girls very similar to me, yet not as fortunate. It is mind blowing to take a step back from all of the amazing benefits my live has to give me and realize that f I was born into another family, in a less developed country, I might not even be able to go to school, let alone follow my dreams of going to college and getting a job. In this life, there is no stopping me from getting what I want except for the obstacles I put in front of myself. Other girls have so much more to overcome to ever receive half of the benefits I will have in my lifetime. My message to people that are fortunate enough to live in a community that is kind to women and respects them as humans is to never take anything for granted. If not for ones own benefit, then out of respect of those in other countries fighting for their right to be considered as equals.


Created with images by - "hz1818.JPG" • Fæ - "Indian Christian, India, ca. 1910 (IMP-CSCNWW33-OS14-35)" • Tomas Aleksiejunas - "Bicycle" • DFID - UK Department for International Development - "The benefits of peer-education in tackling FGM/C" • andreas160578 - "muslima muslim woman eyes" • TREEAID - "Gnanilo women learn how to make their trees work" • Arian Zwegers - "Hampi, school class"

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