Girls’ stories linger in mind

Girl Rising
Directed by Richard E. Robbins
Vancouver Island premiere, The Caprice, Langford

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

Canada Day is all but over as I write this, but I’m still saying a heartfelt thank you to the Canadians who joined forces to bring Girl Rising to a theatre near me.

I first heard about this movie from a friend in Los Angeles. One of the benefits, I thought gloomily, of living in a metropolis is having access to unique documentaries that never quite make it into the commercial theatre circuit.

But—guess what! My friend in Los Angeles has still not succeeded in seeing this film, while I have had that pleasure, thanks to two women associated with Dwight School Canada, an independent boarding school for local and international students. Danielle Donovan, a teacher, and Christine Bader, communications and outreach coordinator, joined forces to gain the school’s sponsorship for the film and arrange a one-night-only showing.

Proceeds went to Because I am a Girl, a Canadian non-profit dedicated to empowering women and girls worldwide by promoting gender equality and girls rights, but Donovan stressed that “getting the word out” was more important than fundraising, so admission was by donation.

In this case, the “word” was about the struggles of nine girls from as many underdeveloped countries to rise above poverty and the limited opportunities for women in their countries. Each girl’s story was unique, but also stood for the stories of many others.

My personal favourite was Wadley from Haiti, whose thousand-watt smile remained undimmed in the aftermath of the earthquake that left her and her mother in a tent-camp with thousands of others. Wadley, a bright student, suddenly found she could no longer attend school because her mother’s source of income disappeared with the earthquake. In Haiti, as in many developing countries, school is not free, but Wadley wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. “If you send me away,” she told the teacher, “I will come back every day until you let me stay.” Eventually, the teacher relented.

Each girl was paired with a writer from her own country who helped her tell her story.  Wadley was paired with writer Edwidge Denticat who emigrated from Haiti to New York as a child and whose novel, Brother, I’m Dying won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

More than one story exemplified the sexual abuse and exploitation of girls in their cultures. Yasmin (not her real name), from Egypt, was sexually assaulted but insisted on calling herself a “superhero” because she fought back against her attacker. The stories were supplemented by cleverly staged sound bites of facts, for example, in Yasmin’s case, the information that, in Egypt, 50 per cent of all sexual assaults are on girls under 15.

The film, however, provided a balanced presentation on men. I found it heartwarming that the girls were often aided in their struggles by brothers and fathers. Marriage often ends a girl’s education at an early age in many countries, but Azmera in Ethiopia found the courage to say “no” to an arranged marriage when her brother voiced his support.  And Senna in Peru was named after Xena, warrior princess, by her father, a miner, who insisted that she go to school.

The film asks the question: “What changes when these girls get an education?” The answer: “Everything!”

If you missed this film, don’t give up.  Get together with friends and bring it back. International Day of the Girl is coming in October. Check out the website:

Joy Fisher recently completed her BFA in Writing.