Written by Jan Turner Tuesday, June 12 2012
Photo by Richard Robbins 10x10 Educate Girls,
Fourteen-year-old Melka was “surprised by marriage” when she arrived home from school. Her parents gave her a dress to put on and told her she was getting married. That night, when she resisted her new “husband,” she was badly beaten.
During her month-long hospitalization, lawyers with World Vision came to Melka’s bedside and asked if she would be willing to prosecute. The courageous young girl from Libo Kemkem, Ethiopia said yes, and both sets of parents went to jail. The marriage was annulled, but Melka had to bear her father’s anger and rejection for disgracing the family.
Although early marriage was banned in Ethiopia in 2005, the practice of marrying girls as young as seven still exists in remote areas. Other developing countries also practice child marriage, and the results can be tragic.
Often married to men who are decades older, the girls - who may not yet have reached puberty – have no say in when their sexual lives begin. Consequences of early marriage often include days-long, painful labors that ultimately end in caesarians, since the babies cannot pass through too-small birth canals. Not infrequently, the tissue separating anus from vagina ruptures, and the girl can no longer control her urine or feces. With no access to corrective surgery, she will be branded “unclean” for life.
When asked if they are happy, the child-wives frequently give the same reply: I wish I could go back and live with my family. I miss going to school.
10 x 10: Educate Girls, Change the World
The story of Melka, who now volunteers at a local school teaching girls about their rights and the consequences of early marriage, is part of a unique undertaking called 10x10: Educate Girls, Change the World.
Headquartered in New York City, 10x10 (pronounced “10 times 10”) is at once a powerful documentary film, a global social action campaign and an extraordinary opportunity to fight global poverty by educating adolescent girls in developing countries.
A collaboration with The Documentary Group and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions, 10x10 was created and launched by an award-winning team of former ABC news journalists. Project Executive Director Holly Gordon came to 10x10 following a stint as content director for the Tribeca Film Festival and a 12-year career at ABC. While at ABC, she worked with top news shows like “World News Tonight with Peter Jennings,” “Good Morning America” and “20/20” and also provided breaking-news coverage following the September 11 attacks.
The heart of the 10x10, Gordon says, “is to tell really incredible stories that will result in investments in girls as a lever for global poverty.”
The Power of 10
The film project is elegant in its symmetry and profound in its potential to help remake the future: 10 extraordinary girls, 10 countries, 10 celebrated women writers, 10 renowned women actors as narrators. The countries are Afghanistan, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Gordon says that the seed of the project was an assignment to a group of ABC journalists in 2006 to uncover the roots of global poverty. In interviews with political and international development experts, economists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others, Gordon says that the journalists heard essentially the same thing: When countries educate their girls, great things happen. And really bad things – violence, social breakdown, HIV/AIDS, failing economies, out-of-control population growth – don’t happen.
By also pulling together in-depth research from a wide range of credible sources, the journalists became convinced that the education and empowerment of adolescent girls could paint a new future for the developing world.
From News Assignment to Global Revolution
The next decision the team of journalists made was more than a little unorthodox: They decided to go beyond reporting and storytelling to remake the future. They would do it by harnessing the power of the media to change minds and hearts while also joining hands with forward-thinking, action-oriented nonprofit and corporate partners who were already investing in women and girls.
The result was 10x10, unveiled at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. The 10x10 strategy is to spark global change by:
- Driving resources to girl-focused, on-the-ground programs that are proven models for change
- Using the media to penetrate the public mind and create a huge grassroots network
- Using the resulting groundswell of support to provoke governmental, institutional and policy changes that empower adolescent girls.
Martha Adams, creative director
for the campaign
A Stunning Film and Spin-Off Media
Martha Adams, senior producer for the film (working title “10x10”) who is now creative director for the campaign, says that while some shooting continues, editing is underway.
A passionate storyteller, Adams has traveled the world for news, surviving car bombs and cartel violence. Before going on-location for 10x10 to India, Peru and other countries, she co-produced “Playground,” a documentary on child trafficking, directed by Libby Spears and executive produced by George Clooney.
Plans call for the film to be released in theaters next spring and discussions are underway regarding television. Film director is Richard E. Robbins, formerly a member of Peter Jennings’ documentary unit at ABC and an Academy Award nominee for “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.”
Adams says even before the film went into production, there was an outflow of incredible collateral media generated by the talented team members – videos, photos, blogs, books, social media and events. That process continues. “We are still strategizing on finding creative ways to reach the public,” Adams says, “whether it is a dance performance on a plaza in Rome or a video that loops in taxis during an important conference in Amsterdam.”
Ambitious Goals Advance the Cause
10x10 has three very ambitious goals, Gordon explains:
- 1 billion media impressions of 10x10 media
- 1 million actions taken in support of girls
- 1 million donations
A new, soon-to-be-launched web platform will give financial contributors the ability to earmark their gifts for particular countries and NGOs.
Overwhelming Evidence: Educating Girls Makes Healthy Countries
Essential to creating and configuring 10x10 for maximum impact has been the tidal wave of research that proves that educating girls in developing countries improves well-being - not only for the girls themselves but for their families, communities and countries.
The facts from credible sources like the United Nations Population Fund and Council on Foreign Relations, stand alongside and anchor the individual stories of hardship and triumph. Gordon says that the stories are compelling, emotional and central to the project, “but we also want to put the data out there, too.”
In a sense, the data have their own story to tell. The facts include:
- Girls who receive seven years of schooling marry four years later and have two fewer children
- When 10 percent more of its girls go to school, a country's GDP increases
- When female farmers are educated, crop yields rise
- When more girls are educated, a country’s malnutrition and HIV rates decline
- Educated mothers are 50 percent more likely to immunize their children
- When women take leadership roles in their communities, corruption diminishes, and democracy is more likely to flourish
- Girls and women who earn money reinvest 90 percent of it in their families
- $1 in the hands of a woman is, on average, worth $10 in the hands of a man.
Which Countries, Which Writers, Which Girls?
Gordon says that the countries selected for the film speak to the major barriers between girls and education, including early marriage, intergenerational prostitution, civil war, natural disasters and the low status.
Adams adds that selecting the 10 women writers, who needed to have deep roots in their native culture as well as having had their work translated into English, narrowed the field. The writers also played an important role in choosing both the issues and the girls about whom they would write. They include Doreen Baingana (Uganda), Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia), Loung Ung (Cambodia) and Sooni Taraporevala (India) whose first screenplay was for the film “Salaam Bombay!”
Photo by Richard Robbins 10x10 Educate Girls,
Thapa, Suma and the grinding misery of Kamlari
For instance, accomplished Nepalese author Thapa Manjushree writes about Suma of Bardiya, sold into a bondage system called Kamlari at age six. Suma spent the next six years indentured to three different landowners who physically abused her.
Kamlari is a system of bondage in which parents sell their daughters for as little as $25 a year. Kamlari is a particular kind of misery, born of intergenerational debt, the caste system and unimaginable poverty. The lives of Kamlari girls are marked by as many as 18 hours a day of hard labor, beatings and sometimes sexual abuse.
When Suma was liberated at age 12 and reunited with her family, she was a broken child, unable to make eye contact with her mother and unable to speak her native language. With the help of the nonprofit Room to Read, Suma returned to school. She is now active with other Kamlari girls in trying to end the brutal system in her hometown.
NGOs Provide the Through-Line from Stories to Impacts
Gordon says that central to ensuring a through-line from the film and action campaign to tangible impact on girls’ lives are the top-drawer, in-country NGOs – well-managed organizations that believe that educated girls can change the world. They include World Vision, Room to Read, Afghan Connection, CARE, Global Campaign for Education and the United Nations’ Girl Up program.
Strategic Partner Intel and Other Collaborations
10x10 also reached out to strategic partner Intel, a corporation with 90,000 employees in 60 offices around the globe. Intel has already trained 10 million teachers through the Intel TEACH Program Worldwide, transforming countless classrooms. A second Intel program, She Will, empowers girls and women through education, encouraging them to lead the global economy.
Gordon says that Intel’s contributions have been integral to the project’s success. “A gold chip corporation has a tremendous amount of power. Our relationship is really special and deep.”
Other partners include BusinessOnline, Jones Day, Sales Force Foundation, and Katahdin Productions, a nonprofit that receives donations to 10x10 as its fiscal sponsor.
Recasting a “Gender Issue” as Global Security
Political leaders, policy- and opinion-leaders also are central to ensuring change. Gordon says that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her office have “done an excellent job of taking an issue that is generally siloed as a ‘gender issue’ and recasting it in terms of GDP and global security.”
It is through the engagement of top leaders and influencers that 10x10 and its partners believe they can ensure equal opportunity for girls - “the world’s most powerful untapped resource” - while creating a ripple effect that will spread out through generations, communities and countries.
Holly Gordon, Executive
You Can’t Teach Passion
What is Gordon’s biggest challenge? “The hardest thing is to lead a team through uncertainty. Sometimes you are feeling your way in the dark. Still I knew the project would work, that the partnership piece would work.”
A tremendous asset, she says, is the 10x10 team. “We have the most passionate team! Passion is at least as important as skill set, maybe more important, since skills can be taught. But you can’t teach passion.”
The “Rightness” of Girls Reaching Their Potential
At the center of it all are the girls – many broken, harmed, hopeless – who reach inside themselves to find the courage to seize a new beginning. Says Adams, ”I’ve been fortunate to meet many impressive women through my work. But none of them can begin to compare to these girls.”
And, too, there is the journey – starting it and seeing it through. It is a road paved with stories and it leads to the “rightness” of girls flourishing fully. Says Gordon, “The journey matters. The stories matter. And that we put things right.”
More global stories from courageous women:
Poverty, being a victim of the horrors of sex slavery and a tribal minorty in her community were not enough to stop Somaly Mam from finding a way to provide for her family. Now she dedicates her life to saving other young girls yearning for freedom.
This courageous mother is taking her family from their suburban home in Alpharetta, Ga., to Swaziland where she, her husband and daughter will live without electricity and the usual comforts of suburban living – all for a great cause.
Robi Damelin attempts to do what many politicians deem impossible – giving peace a chance between Palestinians and Israelis. See how she plans to make this change through Parents Circle/Families Forums.
Jan Turner lives and writes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. For more than 20 years her articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, USA Today Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor as well as on wire services in the United States and abroad. Turner has written on subjects ranging from leadership and business culture to diversity awareness and faith-based organizations, and she has a nonfiction book underway. Turner has an advanced degree in intercultural communication and has traveled solo on many continents, exploring cultures from Ladahk and Sumatra to Malawi and Turkey, seeing first-hand the contributions and resilience of women.