Girls don’t always have a say in decisions that affect their lives. Girls deserve to participate in their communities, advocate for their rights, and be role models for other girls.

Research shows that from the moment girls enter their early teenage years, they face restrictions and limitations that place them at a disadvantage – particularly for marginalized girls from poor families. Data shows that in some cases, 80-90% of youth program participants are boys.

In developing countries, the challenges that girls face are magnified by poverty. Rather than learning about their rights and how they can make a difference in the world, many girls’ voices are silenced and they have no say in major decisions that impact their lives. Instead of going to school, making friends, and gaining life-skills, many girls spend their time cooking, cleaning, and caring for younger siblings. When girls are given the chance to have their voices heard, they can make a positive impact on the lives of their family, their community and the world.

By the Numbers

  • Girls spend 33–85% more time per day working at home and in unpaid markets compared to boys who are the same age. This situation prevents girls from developing skills that will enable them to be self-sufficient and provide economic support to their families. Without these skills, girls are unable to stand up for their rights and the rights of others within their own country.
  • Statistics show that women and girls reinvest 90% of their income back into their families and communities, compared to only 30-40% for men and boys.

Girl Up and the United Nations

Girl Up works with the United Nations to promote adolescent girl leaders by providing them with essential economic and social skills, support from mentors and with the resources they need to participate in community life. Girl Up supports UN programs that empower girls to speak out on their own behalf, engage girls in decision-making, and work with girls, families and their community to explore issues that impact girls’ lives. Girl Up supports programs that provide girls with a safe space to meet, talk, play and learn. Providing girls with leadership skills and including them in decision-making is one of the major tools to spark economic and social change.


Girl Up is working with UN and local partners in Guatemala to expand proven, impactful programs that include a focus on empowering rural, indigenous girls by promoting their self-confidence and providing them with leadership opportunities. These programs teach adolescent girls about their rights, provide them with education, and encourage them to speak out on issues impacting their lives. Girl Up partners are working to promote female leaders by training indigenous women, and older adolescent girls, to become mentors for younger girls participating in the program. Internships and financial literacy classes in their communities enable older adolescent girls to gain hands-on job experience.


Girl Up supports the UN’s work in Malawi to promote adolescent girls’ leadership and advocacy skills through girl-only youth clubs. Other programs include income-generating activities for adolescent girls, livelihood and vocational skills training and mentorship opportunities. Clubs provide girls with a place to meet, learn and play. Activities like mock-parliament help teach girls about their government and civic engagement, and how laws against practices like child marriage can help protect their rights. Vocational education provides older teen girls who have had to drop out of school – and therefore have little chance for employment – the opportunity to learn skills such as tailoring, carpentry and cosmetology. When girls graduate from this program they are provided with their own toolkit of supplies– such as a sewing machine and scissors for aspiring tailors.


In refugee camps in Ethiopia, Girl Up is supporting a UN program that provides girls with a variety of opportunities to get engaged and become leaders. Programs such as girls’ academic clubs and school achievement awards give refugee girls a chance to be leaders in the classroom. Girl Up is supporting the UN’s work to create recreational facilities in refugee camps and provide girls with sports equipment and uniforms so that they can become leaders on the field. The program also awards scholarships for girls to go on to vocational school or to college.


Girl Up supports the UN’s work to promote girl leaders in Liberia through girl forums where older adolescent girls are given peace-building and leadership training. These skills are then passed on to younger adolescent girls in their communities. The program also provides adolescent girls with livelihood skills training and internship opportunities. Liberia has one of the best role models for girl leaders – their President. In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected as the President of Liberia, making her the first female head of state in Africa. And, in 2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside fellow Liberian Leymah Gwobee, who mobilized and organized women to bring an end to the civil war, and to ensure that women were able to participate in elections.


Adolescent girls in India, like girls in many other parts of the world, are among the most vulnerable members of society.  Boys are often more valued that girls are because they carry on the family name and are able to help with hard labor, which is common in the rural regions of the country.   As a result, boys are often allowed to go to school and given a greater say in society, while girls are often married young and kept in the home doing household tasks.

In Rajasthan, one of the most populated states of India, adolescent girls face a number of challenges. In that region, Girl Up supports UNFPA’s Action for Adolescent Girls Initiative. The program helps girls develop leadership skills by offering job skills training and age-appropriate employment opportunities.