The rise and rise of girls: celebrating our successes

By Keshet Bachan, Plan International USA

On a rainy November day in 2007, Plan International launched a new campaign named after a report they has just published called ‘Because I am a Girl’. The launch was held at the offices of Marie Claire Magazine, and it featured Cherie Blaire as a guest speaker.

At the time, global attention was firmly fixed elsewhere – it was hurricane season in the Pacific and the Dow Jones had just taken a 360 point dive, heralding an economic crisis the likes of which the world hadn’t known since The Great Depression. But in a small press reception, in the heart of London, change was afoot.

The next day a minor news story made it onto the back pages of a few papers – the UN sent home 108 of the 950 Sri Lankan peacekeepers stationed in Haiti, accusing them of sexual abuse, including with underage girls. This shocking event passed by mostly unnoticed and unremarked upon by those responsible for holding UN agencies to account. As usual, only the feminists cried in outrage, and the world kept spinning on its axis unperturbed.

Girls were invisible, and so was their plight.

Around the same time, the 2008 ‘Because I am a Girl’ report was published, focusing on girl’s rights in war zones. One of its main recommendations was to enforce the code of conduct for UN personnel serving in conflict and post conflict zones so that they protect, not exploit, girls and young women. Despite the topical nature of the issues discussed, the report’s call to action failed to gain significant traction with donors and policy makers.

It would take yet a deeper plunge into the economic abyss in order to firmly place girls at the top of the global agenda.

In December 2009, the participants of the World Economic Forum in Davos – largely heads of billion dollar corporations – were invited to a session called ‘The Girl Effect on Development’. The Davos meetings that year were focusing exclusively on the global economic crisis that had hit these corporations hard. The idea of a session that sought to encourage large scale investments in adolescent girls living in some of the poorest communities in the world seemed at odds with the economic climate.

Yet, the session had sold out almost immediately.

The Girl Effect told a simple story: if you invest in adolescent girls, then fertility rates drop, children have better health outcomes, the workforce grows and becomes more productive ultimately leading to a stimulated economy. The crux of the argument was this – girls will one day be mothers, transferring their gains to their children, ensuring a multiplier and intergenerational effect will inevitably take place.

This easy formula for stimulating the economy caught the attention of every business person and politician in the room and the Girl Effect video quickly went viral.

At the same time Plan’s third ‘Because I am a Girl’ report, which analyzed the roles of girls and young women within the global economy, had finally hit a home run. Coming as it did on the heels of the economic downturn it offered duty bearers a clear route towards equitable distribution of wealth and assets – through an investment in girl’s education. History shows, the report argued, that when a girls are as educated as boys, economies prosper and governments remain stable.

The clarion call for girl’s rights had been made and it was echoing around the globe.

Investments increased, the ‘Because I am a Girl’ campaign went global, with Plan International’s urging the UN passed a resolution to make October 11th the International Day of the Girl and with our continued advocacy efforts a landmark UN resolution was passed banning Child Early and Forced Marriage.

The momentum to invest in girls continues today. The First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama recently launched an initiative called‘Let Girls Learn’ which aims to get 60 million out of school girls, into a classroom, and the sooner the better.

The US Government, including the State Department, USAID, PEPFAR and the Millennium Challenge Corporation developed an entire strategy to empower adolescent girls, taking a bold step to reach those who need our support the most.

At every level, the belief that girls are central to development efforts, that they require specific investment because they are most likely to be left behind, that their voices are too often missed but are worthy of being listened to, has been wholly endorsed.

And so on the eve of the United State of Women we find ourselves in a new, exciting place – celebrating the role that women and girls have played in making themselves central to human prosperity, calling out the continued challenges of violence, discrimination and marginalization which keep women and girls from reaching their full potential, and hoping beyond hope that the efforts we’ve made and continue to make will change the course of history forever.