Teen girls are pretty powerful when you give them a voice. Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation effort, aims to do just that. The organization encourages young women in the United States to speak up for vulnerable girls in other countries. From Guatemala to Liberia, girls around the world have been denied education, forced into early marriage and physically and mentally abused. Through everything from fundraising to policy advocacy, Girl Up empowers girls in the United States to grow into thoughtful, capable young women by teaching them to stand up for the voiceless.
More than 100 Girl Up members are currently gathered in Washington, D.C. for their second annual leadership summit. On Tuesday, the girls heard from Mexican business leader, Grupo Omnilife-Chivas CEO Angelica Fuentes.
"Because of a random twist of fate," she told them, they were lucky enough to be born in a country that provides them access to everything from running water and education to cars and clothes.
"We should not feel guilty for making use" of these gifts, she continued, but with such privilege comes responsibility. Even when it is uncomfortable or they face opposition, she said, the girls should continue to fight for vulnerable young women who have been stripped of their ability to speak for themselves.
"Let this activism," Fuentes said, "become a state of perpetual rebellion."
Here are five ways Girl Up members in the U.S. are making a difference in the lives of other girls around the world.
Social Media for Social Good
There are regular tweet-up breaks during the leadership summit where girls are encouraged to share what they're learning on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Girl Up also hosts regular Twitter chats using specific hashtags such as #girlslead2013, and clubs in the United States video chat with clubs in places like Gambia and Dubai.
Lobby, Lobby, Lobby
Girl Up members learn how to approach policymakers and advocate for certain causes. Last year, Girl Up members concluded their leadership summit with a day spent lobbying members of Congress to address child marriage. On Wednesday, they will take to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to call for the documentation of girls. Right now, particularly in indigenous populations, many girls simply don't exist on paper. Some don't have birth certificates or health or school records, which makes enforcing laws designed to protect them difficult.
Show Me the Money
The sometimes cold truth is that enacting real and lasting change often takes huge sums of money. And Girl Up members have hit the pavement running to raise funds for their causes. Literally. The organization uses Charity Miles, an app that allows girls to earn money for Girl Up by running, biking or walking. They also sell Girl Up totes and t-shirts, and hold everything from bake sales to talent shows to bring in dollars. The money funds things like literacy programs and a children's parliament in Guatemala that actually meets, forms policies and lobbies the country's adult parliament for change.
Sometimes it's hard for girls to really understand the impact their actions have on girls who live halfway around the world. So Girl Up facilitates travel opportunities that allow girls from the United States to travel to places like Guatemala and meet members of Girl Up clubs there. Their mentors say they return energized and more committed to helping girls all over the world succeed. It's more than just a one-way street, though. The girls also learn from the young women they meet abroad. Those girls may not have access to education or a platform to speak, but they exude courage by doing things like reporting rape even though they face real risks of retaliation. They don't want to, and should not, be pitied, and that's important for girls in this country to understand.
Teach Them To Fish
Girl Up is based on the concept of empowering girls, both here and abroad, to harness and employ their own abilities. Teen advisors work with younger members on everything from the best way to gain traction on social media to how to talk to members of the Senate. Girl Up also brings in young women they've dubbed "champions," like Olympic medal-winning swimmer Rebecca Soni, to serve as role models. If the girls see somebody who looks and acts like them having a real impact, Girl Up believes, they will believe they can change the world, too.