Empower girls, transform the world

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Yesterday, I got to ring in World Population Day early at the Wilson Center’s program on Youth Engagement and the Sustainable Development Agenda. Coming from ICRW, I went to the panel with an eye for how the speakers would include girls in their discussion. The panelists did not disappoint. Perhaps the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)’s Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin said it best when he argued that empowering girls through education, political representation, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and other avenues “would transform the world.”

It is nearly impossible to imagine just how transformational such a world could be. Of the many resources on Earth, perhaps none is more valuable than human ingenuity. When girls lack access to education, not only are we not allowing them to reach their full potential, but we also deprive ourselves of an irreplaceable source of intelligence and innovation. It is a massive loss to us all, but the good news is that it’s a loss we can reverse through one concrete step: empowering girls.

As the global community turns to crafting development goals once more, ICRW has advocated for girls’ rights and needs to be placed at the forefront of development in multiple sectors, from access to education and health care to economic empowerment. Not prioritizing this critical population continues to signal that girls’ rights don’t matter, even as it undermines global progress on such laudable efforts as eradicating poverty and violence. When we do prioritize girls’ empowerment, the evidence shows that not only girls, but their families, communities and nations benefit.

Already, ICRW has seen the success of programs that empower both married and unmarried adolescent girls. An innovative program called TESFA, evaluated by ICRW and implemented by CARE-Ethiopia, which aims to empower married adolescent girls in Ethiopia economically and personally, has given girls confidence and improved their lives, and through them, their communities. The Apni Beti, Apna Dhan (“Our Daughter, Our Wealth”) program, which incentivizes Indian families to send girls to school instead of the altar, has allowed girls to pursue their education and given them the freedom to dream of more than marriage.

The ripple effects of both of these programs are numerous; beyond pure economic and educational empowerment, they illustrate the value of girls to their communities, potentially shifting social norms and perceptions of girls, leading to the advancement of gender equality – which benefits everyone.

That’s nothing short of transformational.