Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

You Think You Know Me? It's All About the #DayoftheGirl

October 11, 2012

Of the many days in 2012 I've been anticipating, this one stands above them all. Today is the first-ever United Nations International Day of the Girl thanks to Plan International and Canadian CIDA.  Eight years ago when the Girl Effect was just an idea, the NoVo Foundation, UN Foundation and other early champions struggled to get any attention to girls' issues.  We had two simple goals, get girls on the global agenda and drive massive resources to them.  Today conferences, meetings and gatherings across the globe do have girls on the agenda.  So this is a big moment for every individual and organization that has worked so hard to celebrate.

But in the same breath, I have to say: it is a dangerous moment. There has been so much attention lately but that ambitious goal, moving "massive resources to girls" is still a dream.  Yes, small and important progress has been made and we see adolescent girls in India, across Africa, across the globe breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty for themselves, their family, community and nation.

The question is how do we really reach all the 250 million adolescent girls in poverty today?  Our starting point has always been and will continue to be girls themselves.  We all need to ask ourselves what we know and truly understand about adolescent girls. Or, indeed, what we think we know. If we asked girls themselves, they would say: You Think You Know Me?

Seems a little harsh, right? But after thousands of hours of listening, challenging and exploring challenges with girls themselves in multiple countries over 8 years, it is the response we hear.  What they tell us is that programs we assume reach them don't.  Things we think they want, believe, will do or won't do aren't right; when and how we think they need resources isn't right.   What we must do is start with programs that are designed with girls.  They ask us to tell you, the people who design any program, health, agriculture and food security, water, economic opportunity, listen to my voice. Insights from girls will create solutions that will not harm her or waste her potential.

So, what is working?  In July, I participated in the Family Planning Summit where the UK government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 150 public and private sector leaders came together to help expand access to contraception and related health services not just for women, but for the first time in history, for girls.  Why?  Because girls told us that when they are married at 9 or 12 or 16 years old, they cannot protect themselves from marriage; or if married, protect themselves with family planning.  

Traditionally, family planning is targeted at older women in their 20s and above. But in the 2 minutes it takes you to read this blog: 52 adolescent girls will give birth, 90 percent of them were child brides and 4 of them will die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.  So we all listened to girls and at the Summit, and through the commitments that were made, it was the first time in history that the unique challenges faced by girls were addressed.  Now we need to deliver for them.

When you put a girl at the center of change, she changes everything. This is the girl effect.  In the world today, there is an estimated 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty.  The untapped potential of these 250 million girls is the most powerful force for positive change.  

So to honor her today, do these simple things:

Listen to her and design all programs with her in mind.  Make her visible -- don't assume she is included in what you do.  Make her visible.  She wants to be counted.  We need to disaggregate data by sex and age so we know what is really happening to her.  And if the data doesn't exist, leave it blank so we know she is being made invisible. And finally, invest in her potential like we really mean it.  

That is how to honor her on her first International Day of the Girl.

 

 
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