Girls Don’t Run the World, Yet

October 9, 2015
A young girl outside a schoolhouse in Ethiopia [USAID/Susan Liebold]

I meet with adolescent girls almost everywhere I travel, and I find that no matter what country I’m visiting, the optimism of girls is universal. Adolescent girls believe in themselves and in their own potential to make the world a better place to live.

As the international community works to empower adolescent girls by tackling the challenges they face -- the gender-based violence, the cultural assumptions that girls are worth less than boys, the lack of access to quality education, and so on -- we need to remember that girls themselves are important, powerful partners in our work.

Here are five inspiring girls who are proof that girls can and do lead the way for gender equality and girls’ empowerment. 

"Invest in us. We are not just the future but we are the present" - Jimena [Photo coutresty of Let Girls Lead]

Since she was eight years old, Jimena has taught other girls about human rights, girls’ health, and education in Guatemala. Today she is still a peer educator, but she’s also an educator of adults, who need to hear why girls are worth the investment. 

"By 2030, I hope that education should be accessible to everyone so that girls become what they want to be" - Tisungeni [State Department Photo]

Tisungeni is 13 years old. She left her home in Malawi for the first time to travel to New York City for the UN General Assembly, where she shared her experiences of working to pay for her education and advocating for girls’ priorities. It was an honor to meet her. 

" People think boys are smarter. Girls hide their intelligence because they dont want to be talked about" - Kenyan schoolgirl [State Department Photo]

When I visited the Alliance Girls High School in Kenya this summer, I met with many girls who talked about how their education helped them overcome challenges. One of the themes I took away from that visit was how stereotypes hold back girls from attending school or doing their best in the classroom.

"Our communities belive we should stay home and just get married. We all deserve a better life...and that comes from education." - Sangita [Photo courtesy of Tony Williams]

Sangita attends one of the best universities in Mumbai. She’s in the top 5 percent of her class. But she’s had to overcome incredible challenges to get where she is, from poverty to perceptions that girls don’t belong in school. In addition to her studies, Sangita is also an advocate for Magic Bus, an NGO which uses sports as a catalyst for education. 

"Now I know that even though I am a girl, I can also be the best pediatrician. Actually, I knew that already, but after Obama's speech, now everyone in Kenya knows that too" - Sandra [Official White House Photo by Pete Souza]

President Obama focused on women and girls during his trip to Kenya and Ethiopia this summer. This quote from Sandra, a 16-year-old student at a high school in Nairobi, summed up how powerful his remarks truly were. 

About the Author: Catherine Russell serves as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues

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