Film is a powerful medium for storytelling. Take a break from binge-watching reality TV and spare some time watching these empowering and thought-provoking documentaries on women and education.
Education is crucial for the personal, social, and economic development of a nation. It can change a life, empower a community, lift a family out of poverty, AND boost a country’s GDP. Yet, there are over 264 million children with no access to school today, and 130 million of that are girls. What some people don’t understand is that education goes beyond four walls of a classroom and paper and pencils. It creates security, builds relationships, and encourages personal growth. Adolescence is a crucial time for youth as they hold the power to the future. Children, especially girls, are all hungry to learn, but are often overlooked, denied, and rejected.
This breaks my heart because I can’t imagine not having the opportunity to grow and learn. I can’t imagine my childhood and adolescence without the opportunities and education that I was given. Can you?
Over the past year, I have came across a handful of powerful documentaries that showcase the harsh reality of our world; parts of it where it’s unbearable to live in. I wanted to take a few hours of your days to shed some light onto these issues that you might not be aware of in your day-to-day life through these films. There are girls and women out there who are suffering because of a birthright – yet they are surviving day by day due to their strength, resilience, and courage. These women are my sheroes and they inspire me to do a little more each day for the greater good. I hope their stories empower you too.
Half The Sky (Website | Trailer | Watch here)
Written and produced by Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a two-part documentary that tells the stories of women and girls living under extreme poverty and difficult circumstances, facing difficulties every day. Travelling with Nick and Sheryl were six A-list celebrities: America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde, where they each witnessed first-hand the human rights violations against women. More women and girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century.
Half the Sky focuses on rape, sex trafficking, education, prostitution, maternal mortality + genital mutilation, and micro-credit in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Somalia, and Kenya, respectively. I strongly encourage you to put this on your list – it will change the way you think and view the world. Grab the book that inspired the documentary here.
Daughters of Destiny (Website | Trailer | Watch here)
(Somewhat) Newly released on Netflix, this documentary is a 4-episode series about a school in India that is looking to break the cycle of extreme poverty. Shanti Bhavan, founded by Dr. Abraham George in 1997 in Bangalore, accepts only one child from each family living in the lowest group in the oppressive caste system, called the Dalits (also known as the Untouchables). Students are expected to stay in the institution from age 4 and for 17 years, living the majority of their lives there and not at home. In turn, Shanti Bhavan pays for all of their expenses from pre-school through college, and emphasizes heavily to the graduates to do well so that they can help lift his/her own family out of poverty.
This film is directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker, Vanessa Roth, and mainly focuses on five girls from India’s most impoverished families for seven years, profiling them from childhood and adolescence to graduation to adulthood. It is a story of hope and proof that anyone no matter their race or status can achieve greatness, with just a little help from someone.
Girl Rising (Website | Trailer | Watch here)
Girl Rising is a revolutionary film that follows the true life stories of nine brave girls from the developing world who are looking to pursue the one thing that will change the world. Directed by Oscar nominee, Richard E. Robbins, each short story is crafted with creativity, heart, and spirit.
One of the more unique elements of the film is that each story was written by award-winning authors and then voiced-over by some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. This is a film for storytellers, by storytellers.
What Tomorrow Brings (Website | Trailer | Watch here)
The words Afghanistan and Education do not usually go hand in hand for girls. Up until 20o1, the Afghanistan’s Taliban government banned girls from school; but even afterwards, many fathers have forbade their daughters to obtain any education. Those who did attend school dropped out rather quickly amidst poverty, child marriage, and attacks on schools.
Education goes beyond the classroom. It symbolizes safety, community, and freedom. What Tomorrow Brings steps inside the very first girls’ school in a small remote Afghan village, where they explore traditions, skills, and dreams.
On The Way To School (Website | Trailer | Watch here)
This heart-wrenching and inspiring film shines a light on the extraordinary journeys that four children from various part of the world must make in order to attend school.
While many of us complain about stuffy school buses or a 30 minute walk, each one of these children, and millions more around the world, are forced to confront enormous distances and overcome dangerous obstacles for their education, a basic human right.
Poverty Inc. (Website | Trailer | Watch here)
Does foreign aid goes beyond giving? If so, how do we change the defective model?
From international adoptions to social entrepreneurship, this controversial documentary challenges the unintended consequences of large corporations and businesses that do more harm than good by creating a system of dependence.
“The reason there will be no change is because the people who stand to lose from change have all the power, and the people that stand to gain from change have none of the power”.
Living On One Dollar (Website | Trailer | Watch here)
Ever wondered what life would be living on less than a dollar a day? Do you think you would be able to survive? Living on One Dollar follows the journey of four friends who decided to spend two months living in rural Guatemala with less than a dollar a day. For millions of people, that’s their reality every day not knowing when their next pay check will be coming in and are forced to survive life on the edge. Highlighting the realities of rural poverty, this film will take you to another side of the world that you wouldn’t have ever imagined living.
Have you seen any of these documentaries? What are your thoughts on them and will they empower you to take action?
“Research shows that once you have all of your material needs taken care of, which most of us, all of us do; there are very few things in life that can actually elevate your level of happiness. One of those things is contributing to a cause larger than yourself”. – Sheryl Wudunn
Seeing people succeed while doing what they love fires her up like no other. Aside from being the co-founder of DiscoverHER Project, Jess is a meeting planner by day and a wedding planner by night. Jess is passionate about giving girls and women around the world the same tools she used to get to where she is today. She believes in wearing her heart on her sleeve, doing everything out of a place of love, and empowering people around her to do the same. When she isn’t working, she’s most often found with a good book in hand, brunching with friends (hello mimosas!), or off exploring the world.