The Power of Girls
*By Julie Zeilinger
It often seems like despite the advances the women’s movement has made, women are still at an overwhelming disadvantage. Whether it’s the fact that 2 million women a year experience domestic partner violence or that one-third of women have reported exhausting their savings, going into debt, or giving up basic necessities in order to pay for medical care, the obstacles are continuously monumental. We may attempt to look for solutions – usually in the form of the opinion of a bloviating white gentleman on FOX News or CNN – but it seems that no matter what, old problems remain unsolved and new problems continue to crop up. But have we really stopped to consider all of our options?
In the past few years, a new solution has emerged, one that has elicited both excitement and skepticism: young girls. Girls make up 70% of the world’s 125 million out-of-school youth and one in seven girls in the developing world marries before the age of 15. And yet, girls who receive an education marry later, have fewer children, and are more likely to seek health care for themselves and their children, resulting in better health outcomes among women, their children and eventually their grandchildren. Not only can investment in impoverished girls improve their own lives, but the effect can be felt around the world. Experts say that girls are more likely to reinvest new skills and income in their own families and communities than boys (90% of women’s income as opposed to 30-40% of men’s income). Young girls have the power to transform their communities, and eventually their countries and beyond.
Girls Discovered agrees with Girl Up and The Girl Effect’s common goal of empowering young women through education and economic assistance, but brings it back to a research perspective, stating, “For girls to become healthy mothers, productive citizens and economic contributors, their needs must be seen and understood. Yet today, adolescent girls are undercounted and so underserved. Counting them is the first step to increasing their visibility.” And so Girls Discovered counts, by virtual/interactive maps that allow you to view a variety of different statistics about girls across the globe.
At the National Council for Research on Women, we wholeheartedly believe that the “girl” approach is one worth investing in, especially from an evidence-based standpoint. Considering facts such as of men and women who did not complete high school, women were more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts (25.9% compared to 19.2%); the rate of unintended pregnancies and abortions is four times higher among women living below the poverty level than for women living 300% above the poverty level; and over half of new HIV infections globally are among individuals under the age of 25, it’s clear that to not only attack these problems, but overcome them, we must start at the beginning: we must start with girls.
*Julie Zeilinger, current Communications intern with the National Council for Research on Women, is the founder and editor of The FBomb, a blog and community for teenage feminists. She is a senior at the Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio.