"He was a good man. He sent all his daughters to school, too." I used to hear this every now and then, from my mom and other relatives, when I was growing up in Harare, Zimbabwe. They would usually be talking about an older uncle who had passed, the fact that he had made sure all his children were educated, not just the boys.
My own grandfather, the father of one son and six daughters, was among those highly-spoken-of men; he not only made sure his girls received a high-school education but also helped them get into universities. That was no small feat in colonial Africa in the '50s and '60s. It was considered something exceptional to send girls to school back then. Unfortunately, it still is exceptional.
How is it possible that we are still in a world where 130 million girls don't go to school simply because they are girls? If the girls out of school globally formed a country, it would be the tenth largest in the world. What an absolute waste of potential and possibility.
This is something American women may take for granted, but in the developing world, where I grew up, to be a girl comes with so much liability, gaining an education is still considered a privilege, not a right. In some instances, even if girls are sent to school, they're not allowed to learn math or science or subjects that are relevant to the world they inhabit. It's literally crippling their future and perpetuating oppression.
I wrote a play, Eclipsed, and focused on what I learned when I interviewed girls and women who had survived Liberia's vicious civil war. So many of these amazing women and girls had not received much education; so many had received none at all. This was the effect of a twenty-year war, painfully revealed. But they were hungry to learn. I would always ask them — each and every woman I interviewed — what they wanted. Some told me no one had ever asked them that. Ever. But they all, literally all, wanted the same thing: access to schooling. Access to an education that would allow them to truly explore what they were capable of. What society had denied them.
Liberia remains on the list of the countries where girls are least likely to be educated. Nearly two-thirds of primary-school-aged girls in Liberia are out of school. I see that, and I see their faces, those girls and women. And I feel helpless.
But I could not sit idly by and let this global crisis continue without taking action. During the time Eclipsed was on Broadway, I collaborated with an astounding man, Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian human-rights attorney who founded an organization called Education Must Continue (EMC). His work is particularly focused on the conflict in Northern Nigeria, where the girls at a boarding school in Chibok were abducted in the middle of the night by the terrorist group Boko Haram. On that night in April 2014, 272 girls were taken from their school and loaded into trucks, to be transported God knows where. Fifty-odd girls jumped out of the trucks. Some of the ones who escaped were brought to the United States by EMC, to continue their schooling without fear of re-abduction. The movement known as #bringbackourgirls is the result of this.
We dedicated each Eclipsed performance to the girls still in captivity, speaking their names aloud. We had our Broadway audiences speak them, too. Boko Haram is an example of the attack we are under. Their name literally translates to "Western education is sin." They told those girls they had no business being in school as they abducted them into a life of captivity and systematic assault. These girls were assigned as "wives" to the men of this group. Many of them are still living this hell.