UNICEF’s Dr. Anju Malhotra on Girls’ Empowerment


The 2015 Girl Up Leadership Summit was one for the books, bringing together more than 225 girls to hear from some of the world’s biggest advocates for girls’ rights. Dr. Anju Malhotra, Principal Adviser on Gender, Rights and Development at UNICEF, was among the list of inspiring speakers. She spoke to summit attendees about her childhood in India, how she ended up at UNICEF, and her dream for the “world to have ambition for girls.” I sat down with Dr. Malhotra after her speech to learn more about her work and the progress we’ve made toward adolescent girls’ empowerment worldwide.

I asked Dr. Malhotra to start off with the basics. How does UNICEF work, and what is its mission? UNICEF works to provide relief and aid to children and mothers, especially in emergency situations. It is a $6 billion entity that works with governments, civil society and the private sector, Dr. Malhotra explained. The main issues UNICEF tackles are health, education, water securities and emergencies.

Dr. Malhotra has seen first-hand the power of girls and women and around the world. She recounted an on-the-ground story of eradicating polio in Nigeria. Her team went into communities but realized to understand the area they were working in, they needed to engage locals. Older women in the communities, who were seen as trustworthy and wise, helped the team instill confidence in the community. Since most of the population in the area was illiterate, the team as well as the older women utilized mobile phones to have people use an app. The app let users input if their children had completed the series of polio without having to communicate directly with the team on the ground. This initiative tackled both polio and bettered lives in the process.

Dr. Malhotra stated one of the most rewarding parts during her time at UNICEF has been highlighting the issue of early and forced marriage. Child marriage has always been a concern but to have this cause be tackled as an international issue was very rewarding. She fondly remembers the first International Day of the Girl, stating that it was a “huge moment to spotlight girls on a global stage like never before.” Looking ahead, Dr. Malhotra states that donations and commitments by organizations and individuals will be the driver to make the difference in ending child marriage.

While speaking to her one-on-one, I could feel Dr. Malhotra’s passion for helping fight the challenges that children, and particularly girls, around the world face. It is thanks to advocates like Dr. Malhotra that we are closer to recognizing the needs and rights of girls worldwide.

Learn more about the work UNICEF does for girls’ education and gender equality.

This is a guest post by Sunita Rao. Sunita is an intern with Girl Up and is a rising senior at University of Texas at Austin. Originally from Seattle, WA, Sunita started UT Austin’s first-ever Girl Up club.