Boone: ‘Girls Rising’an enlightening film | AspenTimes.com

Boone: ‘Girls Rising’an enlightening film

Kitty Boone
Guest Commentary

Thanks for printing the letter by Leah Davis, who raised good points regarding the Oct. 12 airing of "Girl Rising" for Aspen Middle School and Aspen High School girls ("Is this the way to educate girls?" Oct. 13, The Aspen Times).

While I am afraid she is slightly mistaken on what was communicated to these kids, I am eager to share why we offered to do this.

First, this was not an idea of the school's "administration," as she suggested. The team at the Aspen Ideas Festival approached high school Principal Kimberly Martin and the Aspen Education Foundation, suggesting that we offer this event and host it at the high school. Thanks to their support, we were lucky to do so.

In addition to showing a film, we convened a panel of three top women in the valley who are devoting serious time and resources to diminishing the plight of girls in the developing world.

One, a high school senior, was invited to discuss what her work with Room to Read is achieving in the high school; it was a timely discussion, as she and her colleagues at the high school had just raised enough funding last week to support a year's education for two girls through Room to Read's network of programs.

Oct. 11 marked International Day of the Girl, celebrated all over the world. The film that we showed, "Girl Rising," was part of at least 2,077 celebrations of International Day of the Girl worldwide.

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Since Davis has seen the film, which documents the incredible and moving stories of individual girls in villages and cities from Port Au Prince, Haiti, to Cairo, Nepal, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and so forth, she is aware that the youth of this valley see nothing like the lives of these young women in such countries. These girls, the world over, have many of the same hopes and dreams as our daughters do right here in the Aspen School District. They want an education but are denied.

For those not aware of the film we aired or the event we hosted for the Aspen School District's population of middle school and high school girls: By creating this two-hour assembly that included the film "Girl Rising" alongside voices of very dedicated and inspiring women right in our valley, our hope and intent was to raise awareness for the 300 or so young smart women in this audience that life for girls everywhere is not quite the same as it is here. Indeed, girls everywhere want to be educated, but many are denied (60 million globally, according to the film's statisticians), for any number of socioeconomic, political and cultural reasons.

What we learn from the voices of the girls highlighted in the movie, with narrative scripts written by extraordinary authors (Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy and Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat, for example) and stories narrated by significant actors the likes of Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Alisha Keys, is how passionately girls everywhere want to learn. They want to enjoy the kind of success that might allow them the freedom to speak out loud, support their families and raise children who also have empathy for others. Yet some, like globally known teenager and Nobel contender Malala Yousafzai, are shot for such dreams and activism.

Our hope is that the girls who attended learned that they, too, can make a difference in the lives of all women everywhere. Perhaps some who saw it will actually want to do more for girls in other places. I know that there were several questions that suggested interest in finding out how to get involved. There might be interest in the middle school for supporting the Room to Read chapter at the high school, for example. From working with the Marshall Direct Fund to getting excited about pen pals or working through video conferences with children in other cultures through Global Nomads, there are hosts of activities that our kids can participate in to reach out to girls globally.

I fear that the notion that this wasn't "educational" — that the time that the girls spent attending this assembly instead of their regular classes alongside their male colleagues was a misuse of class time — misses a big point. Yes, some may have seen the film — that is terrific. Indeed, I learned more seeing it this third time than I did the first two times around.

I hope that the discussion and the questions thereafter — for all those who hadn't seen it and maybe those who had — were enlightening. A lesson in geography, perhaps, or global affairs. Or lessons about the destructiveness of religious intolerance or consequences of political strife, intolerable poverty and the suffering and human toll of young girls enslaved. Among those in attendance for whom these issues are not particularly part of their daily lives, I think probably they learned something. They struck me, as a moderator sitting on stage and looking out into the audience, as pretty interested, to be honest.

I couldn't agree more that boys should understand the plight of girls everywhere and that they should be invited to see, hear and discuss these issues. It is arguable, however, that until women and girls deeply understand, appreciate and discuss the dilemmas facing other women and girls in so many places around the globe, boys may not, either. Importantly, the global celebration of International Day of the Girl gave us an opportunity to celebrate our girls — to give them a voice and to hear from them. This year the focus of International Day of the Girl was education, and thus we felt it appropriate to invite girls to participate to learn about girls' education everywhere. Sometimes having an opportunity just for girls to listen to and learn from amazing women and girls, share stories and talk among themselves can be remarkably educational in and of itself.

We sincerely want to do something of intellectual substance and depth for the boys of the Aspen School District and beyond and are looking for the perfect opportunity. We all know there are striking and disturbing dilemmas facing young men and boys in this country alone: dropout rates, violent crime, incarceration, unemployment and drug abuse at levels that far exceed trends among girls. Our sons should understand and pay attention to all of it. We need to understand why this is happening. It is why several of our programs at the Aspen Institute, frequently raised at the Ideas Festival, confront the challenges facing men globally and at home.

Stay tuned. We look forward to producing a program of value for the boys and have that on our agenda, with hopes that it will be equally educational.

Kitty Boone is vice president of public programs at the Aspen Institute.