“Some day, they will say this was the moment when the world woke up to my potential…this is the moment when being a girl became my strength, my sanctuary, not my pain.”
These are the words of the Girl Declaration, a powerful statement written by adolescent girls who are living in poverty around the world.
All too often, these girls have been neglected by society. Their needs go unmet and their rights are ignored. People take advantage of their lack of power, their isolation, and their limited access to economic opportunities and legal protections.
Consider that 14 million girls are married as children each year before they are physically or emotionally ready. In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than one in five girls makes it to secondary school. Worldwide, nearly 50 percent of all sexual assaults are against girls aged 15 years or younger.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
That’s why today—on the International Day of the Girl—we celebrate the Girl Declaration. The International Women’s Health Coalition has made advancing the rights and health of adolescent girls a key focus area of our work. In Latin America, Africa and Asia, we are partnering with local groups to promote girl-friendly health services, keep girls in schools, and eliminate child marriage.
In Brazil, we work with Reprolatina to educate adolescent girls about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Reprolatina reaches youth directly in local communities, online, through health centers, and in public schools. The results have been outstanding. After Reprolatina ran its education programs for two years in the town of Barro Alto, the proportion of adolescent girls giving birth dropped from 40 percent of all births in 2010, to 10 percent in 2012.
Across Nigeria, our partners Girls Power Initiative and Action Health Incorporated are providing girls with the information, skills, and care they need to make a healthy transition to adulthood. Together we have developed a national sexuality education curriculum that not only informs but helps to empower girls. We also work with INCRESE in northern Nigeria to sensitize families and communities about the harms of early marriage. We work with survivors and help them share their stories with other girls who are at risk of early marriage.
And in Pakistan, we are supporting Aahung to implement a comprehensive sexuality and life-skills-based education program in primary schools in Sindh province. This is a groundbreaking achievement. Many of the girls are completely unaware of their own bodies, or even what menstruation is, before entering the program.
As world leaders gather to discuss global priorities for development once the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, we are making sure that girls’ voices are being heard. That’s why IWHC joined 25 leading development organizations to produce the Girl Declaration. We know that investing in girls is a smart economic decision that will solve global challenges. But more importantly, it is the right thing to do.
Please take a moment to read the Girl Declaration and listen to what girls have to say. Help us build a better future for girls and stop the cycle of poverty and abuse before it starts.
I welcome your thoughts and support.