Kerry Washington and director Richard E. Robbins talk ''Girl Rising''

March 08, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

They met on the set of Scandal, but now Kerry Washington and director Richard E. Robbins — a former writer on the hit ABC show — are teaming up for an even worthier cause. They’re collaborators on Girl Rising (out this week), a part-narrative, part-documentary film that tells the stories of nine young women around the world who are attempting to overcome barriers to education. Each story is told by a high-profile narrator, including the likes of Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and yes, Washington (who tells the tale of a Nepalese woman named Suma). When Robbins first screened the footage for the Django Unchained star, ”I actually couldn’t get through it,” she says. ”I couldn’t do the narration right away because it was so heartbreaking to hear and see what this girl had gone through. She’d been in bondage since she was 6 and she learned to read at night.”

Washington hopes the finished product will be a call to action for audiences. ”Each of these nine girls is up against seemingly insurmountable conditions,” she says. ”To see girls overcome [these obstacles] is inspiring enough to make us all feel like, ‘Well, what can I do?”’ She adds: ”You really do see how within a generation you can reverse the limitations placed on women if you allow girls to have access to education.”

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