Ahead of Girl Summit 2014, actress Freida Pinto talks feminism, fame and why Angelina Jolie inspires her
You’ll know Freida Pinto as the breakout star of Danny Boyle’s 2008 Brit movie, Slumdog Millionaire, and she's soon to co-star alongside Natalie Portman and Christian Bale in the forthcoming Knight of Cups. Today though, she’s not talking about movies. She’s got something more important going on.
As Plan International’s Girls’ Rights Ambassador, Freida Pinto is fast following in the humanitarian footsteps of Hollywood starlets like Angelina Jolie, Emma Watson and Beyonce, using their fame to help shine a spotlight on issues affecting women and girls around the world.
Ahead of her closing speech at Girl Summit 2014, Marie Claire speaks exclusively to Freida about her work with Plan International and why, right now, it's time to galvanise efforts and keep talking in order to end FGM and forced child marriage in a generation.
Freida Pinto speaks at UNICEF's Innovate 2 Educate event in New York
There’s a swell of momentum surrounding women’s and girl’s rights. Why do you think it’s finally happening now, in 2014?
I think it’s been happening for a while but we go through phases. There are events in history that should have shaped the future for women differently, but they haven’t so far and that’s been frustrating. But now there’s a huge amount of awareness and technology has made it possible for people to come together and not isolate their struggles. The struggles of a girl from Africa aren’t that different to those of a girl in India, and in turn, a girl in America. No matter how modern and educated she might think her community or society is, there’s still sexual violence against women, there’s still rape, there’s still FGM carried out in places like Australia, New Zealand, America and the UK where there are large immigrant populations. I think technology has made it easier for people to come together, and their voices are united and louder than ever before. We couldn’t do that before the Internet.
This is the first Girl Summit the UK has hosted. Why is it important to you to be a part of it?
I think quite simply because I am a girl. I always knew that I was born more privileged than some of the girls who I’ve met through Plan. And I feel that protection, comfort and privilege I had growing up is something that every girl should have. We’re not asking for a luxury car or a big home, we’re just saying that girls should be able to go to school. That’s not a big ask. There’s a domino effect that may start small but before we know it, we can have an impact on a whole community, then a whole nation, then the world will catch up. We have to start small though.
Freida Pinto meets students at a Plan-supported school in Ethiopia
You travelled in Asia and Africa for your work with Plan International, can you tell us about some of the inspiring women and girls you met?
Oh there were so many. Actually, one of the most inspirational things for me was when some young boys in Sierra Leone came forward to voice their concerns for their sisters. They kind of know they are in a privileged position because they are not going to be a target for practices like FGM or to be married off in the way girls are. And I feel like their awareness of this helps understanding amongst the wider community. They all have mothers, sisters and female friends. I think issues of female empowerment can be very polarising if we don’t talk about the boys. It’s important that boys want to grow up respecting and caring about women’s issues. They need to be involved in this conversation.
Do you have any specific lasting memories from your trips?
One of the first trips I made with Plan was to Sierra Leone where I met one little girl at a school, during a class discussion about what the children wanted to become when they were older. This girl said to me that she’d like to become a finance minister. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s kinda boring but great!’ I asked her why and she said: ‘Because my country does not know how to spend their money on what they should be spending it on, and I would like to help them do that.’ These girls have no choice but to be aware of what’s going on around them and so many of them are using this knowledge to their advantage, which is really inspiring.
Freida Pinto and supporters in New York
Girl Summit will explain what the government, NGOs and charities plan to do to support the fight against FGM and forced child marriage, but what actions can we all take as individuals to help the cause?
The first thing would be to become aware. Most people don’t even know what FGM is. It is a horrible crime against human rights and against humanity. So firstly I would say start becoming aware. People don’t have to feel guilty for having luxuries like freedom, education, fearlessness, but they should be aware that not everyone has that. The second thing is that NGOs and non-profit organisations should not be shy about saying we need money. You can’t do anything without money but a small amount goes a long way. £60 can feed a girl for a whole year in Burkina Faso.
Humanitarian work is different to your day job of being an actress – why is it important that people like yourself and Angelina Jolie and Emma Watson use their profiles as a force for good?
I don’t think that everybody in the acting world or in the limelight should need to feel like they have to be role models. I don’t think that is compulsory and that would be unfair because lots of people might not feel comfortable addressing crowds, preferring to do humanitarian work behind closed doors. But those who can, I think it can be very impactful. Think about how much TV and film children and adults watch every day. When you can say something that's going to benefit people in a part of the world far away from you, there is definitely a massive opportunity to make a change, to help in some small way. Little drops of water make a mighty ocean. Angelina Jolie has always been a massive inspiration to me because no matter how busy her career is she always finds the time to pull together to help causes. People like her and Malala are hugely inspirational. It takes a long, long time to see the results of anything you put out there but it’s absolutely worth the wait.