Most American girls like me have it all planned out. We call out our dream careers in preschool circle times. We talk college as early as middle school. Between soccer practice and piano lessons and homework and friends, our plates are full. But on November 5, during the first ever West Coast Girl Up Pep Rally sponsored by the UN Foundation, I, along with 400 girls ages 10-18, had the chance to step off of our personal treadmills to learn about girls in developing countries around the world. They’re young girls just like us, but what they have on their plates is very different.
“Too many girls are not able to realize their dreams because their reality is so ugly,” said Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, who made a special appearance at the Girl Up event, where several prominent speakers highlighted the problems these girls face. Of the 143 million kids around the world who aren’t enrolled in school, more than half are girls. Large numbers suffer sexual assaults before the age of 15. Half of them will give birth to more than one child before they are 20 — and many will die in the process. And did you know that 7% of girls in developing countries aren’t even registered at birth? — It’s as if their own countries don’t believe they count.
“It is a crisis affecting millions of girls, girls your age, and how they are robbed of their rights, their dignity, and their futures every single day,” said Queen Rania.
All of this was hard to comprehend at first from where I stood in Los Angeles’ Marlborough School gym filled with well-educated girls eating pizza. But we were surrounded by an assortment of booths trying to give us a glimpse of life in the four countries that Girl Up supports, and one exhibit really struck me. In front of Malawi’s booth there were large, yellow, plastic containers full of water. I struggled to pick one up, and shrieked as the handle slipped from my grasp and the jug fell to the ground. “I think I have a callus!” one 14-year old exclaimed, examining her hand after holding the container for less than a minute. What wimps we are, I thought. Malawian girls have to carry all that water for 15 hours a day!
It’s easy to feel a little helpless about the state of the world when the simple fact of where a girl is born determines whether she spends her days at a school desk or working in a factory or farm for less than $2 a day. The purpose of the rally was not to make us feel guilty though — it was to help us recognize the problem so we can work together toward a solution. I learned that just $5 from my allowance can help buy school supplies, build water points in local villages, and help support girl centers in more communities.
Mental note: add “helping girls” to my future plans.
**TAKE ACTION: Educate girls to expand their world!**
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Isabel DeBre is a high school freshman. She loves learning about global and humanitarian causes and is so excited to be a young voice in Care2′s public conversation on the issues that will affect her generation for years to come.