Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Celebrate Solutions: Investing in Girls’ Futures

May 08, 2013

Originally published at Women Deliver's blog.

Women as a whole have made great strides towards equality, but the fact remains that too many girls in the developing world live in circumstances that are unfair at best, and dangerous at worst.

Who are these vulnerable girls?

They are child brides. Roughly one-third of all girls in developing nations are married before they turn 18, and in certain countries the number climbs even higher. What does the future hold for a child bride? A lifetime of illiteracy and a drastically increased risk of dying from complications during pregnancy or childbirth.

They are domestic servants who have never stepped foot in a classroom. Girls as young as five years old perform domestic work for up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Some girls' families obligate them to become servants to support the household, but many are trafficked into the job and are essentially slaves. But what all child laborers share in common is that they are deprived of an education and a nurturing environment in which to grow up.

They are girls growing up in tent camps plagued by sexual violence and devoid of police protection. As a result of limited privacy and police protection in Haiti's tent camps, the rate of sexual assault and rape has skyrocketed. Girls and women of all ages, including toddlers and the elderly, have been attacked, but antiquated attitudes about rape and a deficient legal system mean that rape prosecutions are few and far between.

Without a doubt, the needs of the world's most vulnerable girls are serious and urgent. That is why The Global Fund for Children is dedicated to seeking out and supporting grassroots organizations with innovative ideas about how to address the needs of girls in their communities. Our grantees have opened holistic schools for girls at risk of becoming child brides. They have rescued and reunited domestic servants with their families. They have increased the safety in Haiti's tent camps by installing better lighting and advocating for justice. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Last year, GFC invested $1.5 million in 119 organizations whose programs specifically addressed the needs of adolescent girls. We work to ensure that all girls have the opportunity to learn, earn, lead, know their rights, protect their bodies, and be safe.  For example, in northwestern Pakistan, 750 girls attended our grantee’s trainings on how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. In a region where sexual and reproductive health education is extremely limited, our grantee empowers girls and women with live-saving knowledge.

In Kenya, one hundred percent of program participants graduated high school thanks to our grantee partner who is working as a leadership incubator. By finding top-performing girls who are at risk of dropping out of school, this grassroots organization provides them with scholarships, mentoring, and leadership development. These girls were born to be leaders—now nothing stands in their way.

We have seen firsthand that girl power transforms communities, and we will continue to scout and fund girl-centered programs. We recently teamed up with Catapult to raise funds for a project that will provide 340 adolescent girls in India with basic education and reproductive health programming. But in order to get this project off the ground and transform the target community, we need support from our own community.

As we revisit the achievements of women, let's pause to remember that there is still work to do if we wish to ensure that every girl is safe, nurtured, and free to determine her own future. What better way to honor women than investing in their future?

 
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