THE star of Slumdog Millionaire has described the barriers faced by girls in West Africa as a “treacherous web of problems”.
International actress and activist Freida Pinto, star of Slumdog Millionaire and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, has become the global ambassador for Plan International's Because I am a Girl campaign.
Pinto is highlighting issues such as teenage pregnancy, female genital mutilation and the issues keeping girls out of school through her partnership with the global children’s rights charity.
Because I am a Girl launches on October 11th 2012 - the first ever International Day of the Girl Child – and aims to fight gender inequality, promote girls' rights and lift millions of girls out of poverty.
Ms Pinto travelled to Sierra Leone in May to see Plan's projects firsthand.
The actress met teenage girls from the acclaimed Girls Making Media project, a Plan initiative giving girls the opportunity to learn journalism skills and make and present programmes advocating for girls’ rights.
She also visited the district of Bombali, one of three districts where Plan projects have helped increase enrolment in schools for 20,000 girls and boys through the construction of classroom blocks.
Talking to teenage girls about their lives, Ms Pinto said she was deeply inspired by the girls and “amazed” by their language skills.
"In Sierra Leone, the treacherous web of problems women face is endless - teenage pregnancies, forced or self-imposed prostitution to make ends meet, death during pregnancy, denial of education and the shocking female genital mutilation that is unfortunately embedded in tradition,” said Ms Pinto.
She continued: “There is no overnight solution to these problems, but here’s what I think - educate and empower a girl and she will help build a stronger community.
“Ask them what their dreams are and they will, in their extremely polished, polite and upper-crust English, tell you that they want to be accountants, doctors, journalists, politicians — but only after they say that they dream of a place that is rid of gender inequality.
“Hence, they treat education like a luxury and I was amazed by their command over the English language and oratory skills."
Plan Sierra Leone runs education, health and rights awareness programmes across the country, helping enrol more girls in school as well as addressing issues such as gender-based violence and discrimination, child trafficking, FGM and child labour.
Ms Pinto also stressed the importance of educating boys in order to create safer, more homogenous societies.
She said: "The boys are very important, for their support and encouragement makes girls feel safer and less intimidated.
“Most of the girl empowerment groups formed by Plan have at least 15% to 25% boys, who make a stand against gender discrimination, encourage parents to send their daughters to school and try their best to be the voice for the voiceless."
Founded over 70 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world. The charity works in 50 countries across Africa, including 12 in West Africa.
For more information, photographs and other materials, contact Jane Labous, press officer, Africa, on +44 (0)7540 048494, +44 (0)1483 773330, firstname.lastname@example.org, skype: janelabous
Notes for editors
• Because I am a Girl is Plan's campaign to fight gender inequality, promote girls' rights and lift millions of girls out of poverty. Across the world, girls face double discrimination due to their gender and age, leaving them at the bottom of the social ladder. Research has shown that girls are more likely to suffer from malnutrition; be forced into an early marriage; be subject to violence or intimidation; be trafficked, sold or coerced into the sex trade; or become infected with HIV.
• Plan International will launch the Because I Am A Girl campaign on October 11th, the Day of the Girl. Go to www.plan-international.org/girls for more information.