ICRW Magnifies Girls’ Voices at International Day of the Girl Event

Article Date

11 October 2013

Article Author

Gillian Gaynair

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

On the second annual International Day of the Girl, two young women – one from India, another from the United States – had some advice for leaders currently determining the post-2015 global development agenda: 

Document where girls are – especially those living in poor, rural communities around the globe – and make sure they go to school. Stop discussing how you want to improve girls’ lives, and start doing it. And where there are programs that support girls, go talk directly to the girls to find out if the efforts are succeeding.

“Girls just want to be happy,” said Natasha Uppal, 24, an Atlas Corps fellow and girls’ education advocate from New Delhi. “It’s as simple as that.”

Uppal and 16-year-old Bridget Duru, a Girl Up teen advisor from Maryland, were among the speakers at an International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) celebration of International Day of the Girl on Friday in Washington, D.C.  The event marked the release of ICRW’s “I Know. I Want. I Dream. Girls’ Insights for Building a Better World” report and the Girl Declaration. The gathering also featured an exhibit of photographs taken by married girls and young women in Ethiopia.

Worldwide, 250 million adolescent girls live in poverty and have unique needs that experts say are not being met by current policies and programs. Development goals established in 2000 that aimed to eradicate extreme poverty and promote gender equality and education, among other targets, did not consider the lives of girls – many of whom face numerous challenges, including forced marriage, isolation and violence. 

“Adolescence is a time when millions of girls simply fade away,” ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou told event attendees. “We want to provide a megaphone to amplify the voices of girls all over the world.” 

The Girl Declaration is in many ways that loud speaker, a call to action to embed girls’ interests in the post-2015 development agenda. Created by 25 development organizations and more than 500 girls from 14 countries, the Girl Declaration was handed over to the United Nations on Friday.

“(Girls) are not talking about big visions; they’re talking about things they need in their daily lives,” said speaker Kathy Calvin, president and chief executive officer of the United Nations Foundation. “Girls can be powerful and persuasive advocates. But they have to be given the opportunity.” 

Calvin added that she hoped the Girl Declaration would galvanize a movement “where girls are not invisible, but where they are valued and viable members of their communities.”

ICRW’s Girls’ Insights report contextualizes findings that resulted in the Girl Declaration. ICRW Senior Gender and Youth Specialist Ann Warner on Friday highlighted elements of the report that she co-authored and shared quotes from a few of the more than 500 girls consulted for the declaration.

“We have a real opportunity to step up and take what they’ve told us seriously,” Warner said, “and make sure the next set of development goals are more inclusive of girls’ hopes and dreams.” 

Evident throughout ICRW’s International Day of the Girl celebration was a sense of urgency, for government leaders, civil society groups and multilateral organizations to better understand – and respond to – what girls’ lives are like around the world.  One population that continues to remain largely invisible are married girls – most of whom are not in school and whose lives are excruciatingly isolated, defined solely by household chores.

An exhibition of photos taken by married girls in Amhara, Ethiopia, gave attendees a glimpse not only into their lives, but also how an ICRW and CARE-Ethiopia program, called TESFA, is making a difference for them. The images helped illustrate how girls can “generate change through their own actions” when given the opportunity and the right tools, said Jeffrey Edmeades, a senior social demographer at ICRW who directs the research and evaluation component of TESFA.

By better understanding girls’ every day – where and how they live, their challenges – programs to support them will be stronger, Edmeades said. 

And their voices will be heard. They will be seen.

Indeed, girls living in poverty around the globe “are not just numbers,” said Bridget Duru, one of the young women who spoke at Friday’s event. “They’re real people.”