Adolescent girls around the world have some things in common: their bodies are physically developing, as their hips and breasts grow, they may begin to menstruate, and their hormones begin to surge. But for too many adolescent girls, living in developing countries around the world, these physical changes are where the simliarities stop, with girls growing up in the United States and other ‘developed nations.’
Adolescence is a time of transition and whether a girl comes out the other side happy, healthy and with access to opportunities is something we all have a stake in ensuring. Will she be able to stay in school? Access proper health care? Remain unmarried? If not, it’s more than likely a girl will walk a path of poverty, strangled by her lack of choices and equity, rather than living of life of empowerment and health.
And for many years, various campaigns and organizations have appealed to adults to help make a difference – to help empower young girls by donating to causes that address these lack of options and injustice. But Girl Up, a campaign launched by the United Nations Foundation last week, aims to speak directly to young girls in the United States, inspiring them to organize and activate on behalf of their counterparts around the world.
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Girl Up’s “Girlafesto”
Created to raise awareness and funds for programs developed and run by and through the United Nations, that address critical areas of inequity and injustice for adolescent girls in developing countries, the campaign seeks to ensure that “girls have the opportunity to become educated, healthy, safe, counted, and positioned to be the next generation of leaders.”
Girl Up is a campaign by girls, for girls which means it not only raises awareness and funds for programs that help “some of the world’s most hard-to-reach adolescent girls” but it also “gives American girls the opportunity to channel their energy and compassion.”
The facts tell a startling story:
The Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda (PDF) details girls’ status around the world. In sub-saharan Africa, for example, only seventeen percent of girls enroll in secondary school. In the same region, 12 million girls live on less than $1 a day.
One girl in seven, in developing countries, marries before age fifteen and we know how this can affect girl’s lives – by ending them.
One-quarter to one-half of girls in developing nations become mothers by age eighteen – lack of access to contraception is a key reason.
Even more horrifying are the maternal deaths that occur among young women every year, in developing nations. These are deaths that are entirely preventable. Among women under age twenty, in Ethiopia, unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal death. Adolescent girls, in these same nations, are up to five times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than women in their twenties, and their babies are at a higher risk of dying as well.
Adolescence, for many girls worldwide, brings a rising risk of being sexually and physically assaulted. Girls under age fifteen, around the world, make up more than half of the victims of sexual assaults.
But these are not simply statistics or numbers to bandy aorund. These are girl’s lives we’re discussing and given the opportunity, these are girls who have all of the capability and spirit to be those “healthy, educated, safe…leaders” that Girl Up sees they can be.
The campaign makes it easy for adolescent girls to make a real difference. They’re asking girls to make a “High Five” donation – $5 will go to a “proven United Nations program” that targets five high-impact areas for girls — education, health, safety, leadership, and data. Then, girls in the U.S. can put their second-nature social media skills to work by raising awareness among their friends and community through tweeting about the campaign, putting it up on their Facebook pages, or even organizing in real life (wow!) a Girl Up team, or hosting a fundraiser.
The point is that $5 donations, adolescent girl-power in this country and a powerful program can tangibly touch the lives of girls in developing nations: by providing pencils, paper and books to girls in primary school in Guatemala, and building wells for safe drinking water in communities in Ethiopia, eliminating the need for girls to walk, on average, 6 hours a day to obtain safe water for their families use.
Campaign Director, Kim Perry, gives an inspiring pitch for how much of an impact girls in the United States can have on their global counterparts and how much a girl can accomplish, anywhere in the world, when given the resources and support to do so: