Girl Rising screening in Islamabad

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Jan 11, 2014.

Islamabad – The voice-over sentences carry a significant and staggering statistic: “A girl born on planet Earth today has a one-in-four chance of being born into poverty. And without education, that is where she will stay.”

The words are from the 2013 film “Girl Rising,” which has spawned a global movement for girls’ education since its release, and they echo across the room at Kuch Khaas, where portions of the film were screened for public on Thursday, as the screen faded to black.

The film’s message that girls’ education can help change the world for better is extremely relevant for Pakistan, a country with the third largest number of out-of-school females in the world.

Around 15 million or 2/3rds of Pakistan’s 25 million out-of-school children are girls, according to Alif Ailaan, a Pakistani alliance and communications campaign for education reform.

The Pakistani society itself is deeply conflicted when it comes to girls’ education, as is often made obvious by the number of people who seem to dislike Malala Yousafzai, the young activist who rallied for girls’ education in Swat and got shot by the Taliban but survived.

This “deeply conflicted” nature of Pakistani society makes it difficult to raise voice for girls’ education, but it must be endured somehow, as Mosharraf Zaidi, the Campaign Director of Alif Ailaan, pointed out during the post-screening discussion at Kuch Khaas.

“The biggest thing is to bring more and more people on board (for the cause of education),” said Zaidi. “We should not compromise on what we want to achieve (education for all, including girls), but we must moderate or regulate our message to bring all people on board.”

The film was screened by Girl Rising Pakistan, an initiative that plans to raise funds for girls’ education through screenings of the film in the country.

The Pakistani chapter taps in to the international Girl Rising movement, which is a “grassroots global action campaign for girls’ education, powered by girls, women, boys and men around the world who stand for equality,” according to Girl Rising’s official website.

The movement is based around a 2013 film of the same name, which tells the stories of nine girls from nine different developing countries, including South Asian countries India, Nepal and Afghanistan. The stories all converge on the theme that educating girls can help break the cycle of poverty and ultimately create a better world.

“We are trying to use this film as a tool to generate debate especially on girls’ education in Pakistan but also on issues such as child marriages and child trafficking among others,” said Samar Minallah, a documentary filmmaker and anthropologist, who is working as an Ambassador of the Girl Rising Pakistan movement.

Tahira Abdullah, a peace activist and rights defender, said the government is not allocating enough funds for education and most of the allocated or disbursed money remains unspent at the end of each fiscal year.

She said the children who actually make it to schools get to study from curricula that are “irrelevant and hate-filled.” Moreover, the federal and provincial governments have not been able to implement Article 25-A which promises free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and 16.

“All that is lacking is political will and commitment,” Abdullah said. She said if the government cannot provide education, it should at least seek the help of nonprofit and private initiatives, some of which have successfully run free or low-cost schools for impoverished children.

Famous Urdu poet Kishwar Naheed said there was a need for meaningful action.

“We should not just leave it at words and talks,” Naheed said. “We need to form groups that could be told about girls’ education and that could contribute through action.”

Naheed also read her extremely relevant Urdu poem “They who even got scared of girls,” which talks about the cowardice of militants who blow up girls’ schools and who are against girls’ education.

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