This week I watched, for the first time, Rebecca Barry’s 2013 feature documentary, I Am A Girl, which tells the stories of six young women from around the world. Through their personal stories, the film shows what it means to grow up as a girl in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, the US and Australia. For the filmmaker, the film is an attempt to put “a human face” to the disadvantage and discrimination still faced by women around the world. In telling this story, Barry has chosen to focus on certain issues facing young women today, including access to education, early marriage, childbirth and maternal health, sex work, the role of social media, and mental health.
This film is certainly quite challenging and heart-breaking at times. Take the story of Kimsey, a young 14-year old Cambodian girl, who must work as a sex worker in order to provide for her family and young child. Hers is unfortunately a very common story for poor women in Cambodia – desperation, poverty, domestic violence, hopelessness. Through her face, you can see that Kimsey sees little hope for the future.
Yet the film is also inspiring and deeply moving. In Afghanistan, the filmmakers explore the story of 17-year old Aziza, who is deeply passionate about her own education as well as education for women in Afghanistan. Closer to home, the story of 17-year old Australian girl, Katie, gives a frank, intimate and honest account of her battles with depression and self-harm, as well as the positive and tentative steps she is making in managing her condition.
Through all six stories, the film depicts the vastly different experiences and challenges facing young women across the globe. Yet, by doing so, the film also explores universal themes such as hope, despair, family, sex, future aspirations etc. Most tellingly, the stories of I Am A Girl make another and more powerful statement – gender inequality occurs no matter what the circumstance or cultural context.
This International Women’s Day, I will be thinking about the many challenges still facing girls and young women in today’s world, as well as their inestimable courage, honesty and hope. If you can, I Am A Girl is well worth watching.
Clips of the film can be seen here: