Today, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) honors the extraordinary power of girls. As a mother to a nine year-old girl myself, this is a cause that is especially close to my heart. When given equal opportunities and the support they deserve, girls will lead in making our communities and world safer, more prosperous, and more equitable for all. It is a fact that when we invest in girls’ rights and girls’ education, the returns are felt not just in individual households, but in economies as a whole. But our support for girls is about much more than GDP. It’s about fostering the livelihoods and dignity of all of our children.
In our work at USAID, every day we see courageous and bold young women and girls breaking barriers and confronting the world’s toughest challenges. Earlier this month I met Rwandan climate change activist Ineza Grace, who is leading the fight against climate change in her community and around the globe by building a coalition of thousands of young people across 45 countries to generate sustainable solutions in agriculture, energy, and water and waste management. Ineza is a strong voice in the next generation of leaders, and USAID, through our Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and our Global LEAD initiative, is honored to partner with her and many more young leaders like her to confront the climate crisis and empower local changemakers.
Old ways of thinking too often undervalue girls’ dreams, while unequal opportunities, harmful social norms and practices, insecurity, and other systemic barriers stifle their potential. Globally, 130 million girls were denied access to primary or secondary school even before school closures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty percent of undernourished people worldwide are girls or women. And, if the current trend continues, one in three girls can expect to be the target of some form of gender-based violence during their lifetime. This includes the more than 12 million girls who are married before the age of 18 each year—a practice that puts girls at higher risk of HIV, violence, and even death.
There are far too many girls whose voices continue to be sidelined without community resources and support. An equitable and prosperous future rooted in sustainable development solutions requires addressing challenges like these and changing the systems that perpetuate these inequalities. From Haiti to Malawi, India to Laos, we are working to support programs that help communities confront systemic gender discrimination, address the daily obstacles that girls face, and develop new paths to empowerment for girls and for all young people. We support advocacy training so girls can find their voice, workshops on menstrual health and hygiene so girls don’t have to miss school, and community activism to prevent gender-based violence in all its forms including early, child, and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and cutting.
International Day of the Girl is a celebration of the power of young women and girls—in all their diversity —to own their voice and agency. When we lift up girls, we lift up the world. And we all have a part in standing with girls in the fight for equal opportunity and safer, more peaceful, and more stable communities.
Join us this International Day of the Girl in celebrating the power of girls around the world to lead us into a more just future. Follow the conversation on Twitter: #PowerOfGirls