Women’s Foundation, UCA Start Effort To Improve Education Rates For Arkansas Women And Girls

May 2, 2013

Organizers say a film screening Wednesday on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock could be the start of an initiative to empower women in the state through educational opportunities. 

The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas partnered with officials from the University of Central Arkansas and UALR to show a documentary titled “Girl Rising.”

Girl Rising Documentary

The film tells the stories of nine girls from nine countries who buck the status quo and seek knowledge, because they believe education offers hope for a brighter future and an escape from poverty and persecution.

“In Arkansas, one in four young women don’t complete their high school education… those are very low statistics,” said Lynnette Watts, the executive director of the Women’s Foundation.

She says recent focus groups conducted at 19 high schools around the state reveal the tough road ahead.

“What we learned was that the girls are interested in going to college. They are interested in furthering their education. They are interested in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math,” Watts said.

However, Watts noted additional research by the Women’s Foundation shows a troubling trend. While 56 percent of college aged women actually start college, only 19 percent have a B.A. degree or higher.

Lynnette Watts of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas at the "Girl Rising" film screening.
Credit Malcolm Glover

“We’re losing students somewhere in that continuum. Now, we want to know why,” Watts said, while preparing to greet guests.

Kristy Carter is the director of Outreach and Community Engagement at UCA. She’s one of the UCA Leadership PhD students who helped plan the event.

“Well, the importance [of this screening] is just bringing light to a very global situation that deals with young girls not having the education opportunities afforded to us in the United States,” said Carter. “If just one girl sees this film, takes what she learned back into her community, makes a change, and endorses education for all the freedoms that it gives us… that’s good enough for me.”

Carter says the “Girl Rising” film can inspire women of all ages in Arkansas to take advantage of every educational opportunity available.

“I think from the film, people will begin to draw parallels from what women are experiencing globally,” said Dr. Rhonda McClellan, the director of the Leadership PhD program at UCA.  “Within Arkansas, we have similar situations of women who need to acquire an education so that they can improve their family’s economic status and make a better life for themselves and for others.”    

People gather at the "Girl Rising" film screening on the campus of UALR.
Credit Malcolm Glover

McClellan says the screenings could be a catalyst for greater change.

“When I think about our work here tonight [at this event], I think about Sharon Welch’s work, A Feminist Ethic of Risk; which is the argument that as long as the rights and privilege of middle-class women are secured then we risk forgetting the plight of other woman globally and even locally,” McClellan said. “Whenever we think about the changes that we’re making at the Capitol, we have to remember it’s just not something on paper, but it affects the lives of the women in the area.”    

At the end of the film screening, audience members listened to a panel discussion about the importance of ensuring women in Arkansas get a quality education.

Lynnette Watts with the Women’s Foundation says educating women is not just about empowerment it’s about dollars and cents.

“If you educate the girl, the woman, that’s the quickest way to solutions for a lot of the problems that our state is facing,” said Watts. “We need to really build our culture to value education.”

And Watts says women in the state, who continue their education, make smarter decisions about their health, personal finances, and community needs.

This year, the Women’s Foundation released an updated report on the status of women in Arkansas, the first comprehensive report of its kind in 40 years. Watts says the Foundation will work with the UCA Leadership PhD program to host film screenings in the Delta and Northeast Arkansas, because more needs to be done to raise awareness, curb troubling trends, and help women rise to the occasion and achieve their goals.