Youth Champion Karina and Director Melissa lead a workshop at the G9irls)20 Summit on the importance of making girls count.
Over the past week, I have had the privilege of meeting the 21 incredible girls who are the delegates to this year’s G(irls)20 Summit in Russia. Our Director Melissa Hillebrenner and I got to attend the summit hosted at Google’s Moscow headquarters and take part in all of the workshops with the delegates.
The first half of the summit explored the theme “Opportunity Gained: Jobs, Growth, and Investment.” Several speakers – including Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and Lauren Bush, founder of FEED – spoke to the importance of empowering girls to fulfill their economic potential and promoting women’s advancement in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Many of the delegates are themselves role models of how women in STEM can be game changers: Carmina Mancenon, the delegate from Japan, is studying engineering at Princeton, and Morgane Richer La Flèche, the delegate from Canada, wants to focus on teaching girls computer programming skills.
The second half of the summit focused on “Opportunity Lost: If We Do Not Eradicate Early Forced Marriage.” Melissa and I had the opportunity to hold a workshop about Girl Up and the work we do to address early forced marriage, or child marriage. Our workshop was focused on one of Girl Up’s five issue areas: being counted. In countries such as Ethiopia, many girls are born without birth certificates or passports, leaving them virtually invisible to their governments. Without proper documentation, these girls have no way to prove how old they are, which makes it easier for them to be forced into marriage before the age of 18.
Girls need to be counted so that they can have their voices heard and be viewed as important actors in their communities and nations. Girls count for something, and not just as numbers. It was exciting to meet African Union delegate Soumaya Belaid, who, through her work with the watchdog organization I WATCH, is making sure that girls and women count in Tunisia’s new constitution. After our workshop, we watched the stories of girls who went from being uncounted to counted come to life through the film Girl Rising.
Oftentimes, the argument for supporting girls’ rights and education is that it is a smart investment. And it is—for every additional year that a girl stays in school, she increases her future earnings by 10-20%. But above all, supporting girls is important because girls are people with rights and supporting us is simply the right thing to do. In keeping with Girl Up’s “for girls, by girls” mission, the G(irls)20 delegates used the international spotlight they have to make girls a top priority on their nations’ agendas. As the delegates wrote in their communiqué, “It is imperative that the leading nations of the world take steps to ensure every girl’s safe passage to adulthood, and to her full potential as a vibrant and productive global citizen.”