Dubai Conference Casts Spotlight on the Importance of Educating Girls

Associate Professor in the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University (GW) and senior advisor to GW’s Global Women’s Institute, Amita Vyas, spoke about the priority of educating girls around the world at the 3rd annual Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on March 12, 2016. 

The conference, organized by education entrepreneur Sunny Varkey and The Varkey Foundation, brought together leaders from the public, private and social sectors seeking solutions to achieving education, equity and employment for all.

Panel discussions and conference sessions highlighted urgent and timely themes, including how to address education issues faced by refugee children and the latest innovations in girls’ education.  Associate Professor Vyas, whose research focuses on adolescent health and development of children, served as a session moderator during the conference.

“We know that the least stable parts of the world correlate directly with those places where girls and women are the most oppressed, and stability is crucial to being able to address widespread public health problems,” said Vyas. “So bringing together innovators in education that can advance the education of girls is crucial if we want to achieve health and wellness for women and girls across societies.”

Conference organizers also invited Christina Lowery, CEO of Girl Rising, Martha Adams, chief creative officer at Girl Rising, and Vyas, a producer of the Hindi version of the award-winning 2013 documentary Girl Rising, to screen part of the film at the conference. The film tells the stories of girls from nine developing countries who have overcome enormous obstacles to pursue their educational dreams. Milken Institute School of Public Health held an event October 2015 that featured a screening of part of Girl Rising with guest speaker, Actress Freida Pinto.

“The film really speaks to the value of a girl, and to be able to bring such a powerful film to the very people who are working so hard to educate girls around the world is very meaningful,” said Vyas. “The teachers, educators and policy-makers gathered at this conference, through their commitment to addressing the obstacles and challenges that girls face surviving to school age, getting to school, and participating in the classroom, are making a difference every day in enhancing the value of girls around the world.”

Prior to the conference, GW alumni from Dubai joined the Girl Rising leadership, Professor Vyas and GW alumna and Director of Clinical Operations at the GW Medical Faculty Associates, Dr. Sumera Haque, for a private screening of part of the Girl Rising film.  Also in attendance at this private screening was Pakistan’s acclaimed pop-star, Ali Zafar, who specifically came to Dubai to meet with Vyas and the Girl Rising team to discuss taking the campaign to Pakistan. The pinnacle of the conference was the $1 million Global Teacher Prize awarded to Hanan AlHroub from Palestine, and announced by the Pope via satellite.  Girl Rising ambassadors Salma Hayek Pinault and Parineeti Chopra were also in attendance at the Global Teacher Prize Gala.  As the film continues to be seen globally, Professor Vyas’ expertise in monitoring and evaluation will help to measure the impact of the screenings of the film around the world.

As one alumnus in attendance noted, “This is the important issue of our region, and the film really moved me. I’m proud to see GW faculty involved in this important work.”