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Girl Revolution


Ashish T. Galande

"It’s a massive voice—not a single girl speaking alone."

The world is waking up to the fact that the greatest force for global change is growing up before our very eyes.

"When you begin to undo whatever negativity was instilled, you see they become a totally different species."

Betty Makoni | Founder, Girl Child Network, Zimbabwe

A new session unexpectedly stole the show at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Early on a Saturday morning—when most delegates would be expected to be sleeping—a panel called “The Girl Effect” played to a standing room-only crowd. A buzz circulated the packed room, which included heads of state, CEOs, international banks, and philanthropic leaders such as Melinda Gates and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus.

Why all the fuss? Lee Howell, Davos Annual Meeting Director, says girls were on the agenda for the first time in the meeting’s 39-year history because, as he puts it, “The field work, economic analysis, and experience all point to the powerful effect you’ll have if you invest in girls. People have to do more with less. If that’s the context we’re operating in, then the girl effect is an answer.”

Out of the Shadows

It’s a simple concept whose time has finally arrived. Study after study shows that girls—more than 600 million strong in the developing world—hold the key to their communities’ successful future when they’re schooled and mentored in leadership. When a girl in the developing world gets at least seven years of education, she will get married four years later and have 2.2 fewer children, breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. And an educated girl will apply 90% of her income back into her family, while a boy invests only 35%. Even one extra year of primary school boosts girls’ potential wages by as much as 20%, according to a 2002 study from the World Bank in Washington, DC.

Yet, despite overwhelming evidence that helping girls escape poverty is the key to healthy social and economic growth, only a meager 0.6% of development money goes to this demographic.

If it’s so logical, why hasn’t the world been investing in girls? According to Melinda Gates, “the issue wasn’t brought to the forefront before, so when NGOs or foundations or civil society were developing their programs, they just weren’t thinking that way. If you don’t think about this…you don’t build it into the program from the get-go. Part of it’s just a mind shift.”

“Girls are quite invisible,” says Tamara Kreinin, executive director of Women and Population at the UN Foundation in Washington, DC. “They have no political power. Often they’re not allowed to own anything, and at a young age, they become the little mamas, the ones who do the chores and keep the household going.” They are also held back by rampant poverty, forced marriages, domestic violence, and lack of reproductive health. “It’s critical that we begin to think about what we want for our own daughters, granddaughters, and nieces, and imagine that for all girls.”

Growing Our Girls

Although many organizations that help educate girls and build leadership skills have emerged since the 1990s, the movement is only now gaining real traction. A turning point hit when the Center for Global Development released a report last year called “Girls Count” that detailed the shocking inequities girls face in many areas of the world, and the impact this has on economies. Nonprofits and corporations alike took notice.

The UN Foundation partnered with the Nike Foundation and 30 other international organizations to establish the Coalition for Adolescent Girls, which aims to direct funds toward the development of young women. Then the Nike Foundation, along with the Buffett’s NoVo Foundation, launched an unprecedented $100-million Girl Effect initiative in 2008 to help adolescent girls in developing countries foster social and economic change among their families, communities, and nations. Program director of NoVo Foundation, Pamela Shifman, says that before settling on girls, the Buffetts undertook a deep quest to understand how their foundation could have the greatest impact.

“After many meetings and discussions they realized that they wanted to get to the root of domination, and that the most unheard person in the world is a girl.”

But perhaps the biggest megaphone of all for a new landscape for girls is the Nike Foundation and the NoVo Foundation’s short, online video called “The Girl Effect.” Since its inception last year, it has become a runaway viral hit that has branded the issue globally. . . .


Two years ago, I met four young sisters in an abandoned house in Belgrade, Serbia. They were sitting on dirty mattresses in a room full of pimps, drugs, and abuse. As Executive Director of a small women-led nonprofit, FAIR Fund, I was horrified. One of the teen girls told me her story of being sexually exploited by her family and the current trafficker who was in the room as we talked. She really liked the jewelry I was wearing, and I promised to come back and teach her and her sisters how to make their own jewelry.
FAIR Fund was already actively educating youth in the Balkans and the U.S. on how to stay safe from human trafficking and sexual abuse, but our work had been strictly focused on prevention education in schools and orphanages. What these girls, and the thousands of other young girls who are being sold for forced begging, sex, and labor needed was something different. They needed to be rescued and given the social support and life skills that would enable them to be economically independent and emotionally stable enough to become successful young women.
These four Roma girls stole my heart and inspired us to start a new project, JewelGirls. In the past two years, we have launched an economic empowerment program for girls, many of whom are survivors of trafficking and homelessness, by teaching them to make and market their own jewelry. We work alongside the girls to teach them new skills in communications, marketing, job finding, and health while also bolstering their self esteem through mentorship and art therapy.
I was moved by this article because I know that the girls in our program not only deserve a better life, but they are making it happen. This article very effectively articulates the urgent need of recognizing that girls are resilient and strong members of our world's social capital and can not be ignored. I am going to read parts of this article to some of girls in Serbia, Russia, and Uganda. I think they will enjoy it, too!

Andrea Powell, FAIR Fund

Andrea Powell, Executive Director

Rita Banerji's picture

Not the way

And an educated girl will apply 90% of her income back into her family, while a boy invests only 35%.

The thing is that even uneducated illiterate women put 90% and more of their income into the families.

In India this type of "value added" argument has been used regularly to convince the public not to abort their female children or kill infant daughters or starve them to death. And it is not working!

But if you go into the villages and slums of india (that's more than 80% of india) -- what you find consistently is that men sire children and then romp off to the city or town where they live with another wife with whom they also sire children. They periodically make guest appearances at their village or city wife's house and they are happily received.

In the meantime the children are supported entirely by the women who work in fields or as domestic help or as vendors. This is not counting the 'monetary value' of the work she already does inside the house -- often lugging water and fuelwood by trekking long distances, cooking, cleaning etc. And in many cases the men even take the money from the women, beat them them, and spend it on drugs, drinks, prostitution and gambling. That is how he spends his own income too -- not on supporting his wife and children!

In middle class and upper class india -- when girls are highly educated, the dowry demands get higher -- it is like a penalty. The parents don't think why should we pay dowry she can support herself. They think "we must get our daughter married so lets pay the penalty." Then the inlaws make her slog inside and outside the house. In one dowry case that came to the notice of our campaign (www.50millionmissing) -- the woman worked for a MNC and the inlaws had her take big loans out for them (the continuing dowry demand). They still ended up killing her!

So Right now -- the woman is already is a free for all slave labor in India.

The right to education and other basic human rights must always be inherent and non-negotiable. It must never be an means to view a section (women/girls) as monetary incentive for the benefit of family or community.

Rita Banerji

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