The Rural We: Christina Lowery
Girl Rising CEO Christina Lowery has traveled the world working on documentary films and producing programs for The Documentary Group, ABC, CNN, A&E, Bill Moyers and The History Channel. Now, from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley, Lowery builds on the success of the three-year-old documentary ‘Girl Rising’ with a global campaign for girls’ education and empowerment.
We live in Spencertown, and we chose this area after chancing upon the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School when my eldest son was 4. It seemed like a magical place for children to go to school and grow up, steeped in nature, farm life and the arts. I love so many things about living here – how much time we spend outside, the variety and size of farms around, and the amazing community of people, as well as the practical side of it being a relatively easy commute to New York City, where my husband and I both still work.
I have long had these dual passions in my life – storytelling and international development. I didn’t know people were filmmakers when I was growing up, but then I went to Brown to study comparative literature and met classmates whose parents had creative jobs. I was exposed to the arts, and I fell in love with theater. After college I stumbled into a job on a documentary about Cuba because I spoke Spanish. Then I thought I wanted to work in international development and so got a masters in Community and Regional Planning. But at the end of graduate school, I got the chance to work on a Bill Moyers documentary about women in the developing world and went to Mexico as a translator. That swung me back into filmmaking, and I remembered how much I loved the process of making a film about something I cared about.
Next up: a Girl Rising book launches in February.
We were living in NYC, after our first child, and I realized I didn’t want to travel so much, so I joined The Documentary Group as a supervising producer. We were approached by a funder about making a doc about ending global poverty. We talked to experts in many areas, and the thing that struck us is they all underscored that one of the keys to ending poverty is to get girls in school and keep them there. We looked at the statistics on girls’ education and those numbers blew us away. Educated girls have fewer and healthier children, and are less likely to be victims of violence or trafficking. For every year of secondary school, a girl can earn 10-20% more, contributing to the financial well being of her family. Educating girls causes a ripple effect of positive things and is the single most powerful intervention to end poverty. We wanted to bring that truth to the public. Our goal then became to make a film about girls’ education that people would actually want to see.
But in documentary film, even when you hit it big, it means you’re in theaters for maybe a month, if you’re lucky. We wanted to change minds, lives and policy. We thought, if this is such an incredible way to address poverty, why aren’t people doing it and why isn’t more money being devoted to it? The barriers keeping girls from school are many. Sometimes it’s resources – no schools, no supplies, no money to pay tuition. But in many places it’s also a question of social norms and of how girls are valued. Girls need to be valued not just for their bodies – for their ability to have children and work – but also for their minds and their potential. We’re working to change the way people think about and value girls, and the decisions the “gatekeepers” to girls – their parents, community leaders, etc. – are making about them. We’re trying to spark community-led discussion, as well as change and catalyze investments in girls’ education. We’re currently working in India, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and have created a free, Common Core-aligned curriculum for educators in the U.S. We’re launching new campaigns in Central America and the Middle East this year.
You can watch Girl Rising, as well as last year’s We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World, which we also produced, online. Girl Rising is on our website and both are available through Amazon. In terms of what people can do to get involved? My advice is to do something that is meaningful to you and makes sense for your life. Have a fundraiser, be a mentor, host a screening of the film and talk about the issue with your friends and colleagues. Find something you can commit to together. Big problems can seem so daunting, but there are things you can do even if you only have 5 minutes. To me, the education and empowerment of girls is one of the most important human rights issues of our time and we can all do something to help.