In many ways, 2013 was a watershed year for young women in making their voices heard on a global stage, as stories of courage and heartbreak impacted communities from East to West. In the latest international headline, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager known as "the bravest girl in the world," just received her second nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, for giving voice to the experiences and aspirations of girls everywhere.
And what a girl really, really wants?
Access to education. Basic human rights. Safe spaces to grow up in.
The explosion of social media has given women and girls tremendous platforms to share their stories, connect with one another and influence wide-scale change. And global momentum is building. At the Chime for Change concert in London last summer, Beyonce and a rockstar lineup rallied millions of viewers around a simple but powerful message:
When we empower girls, we change the world.
Campaigns such as these not only ask us to speak up on behalf of the women and children who make up the majority of the world's poor, illiterate and at-risk. They also encourage young women to speak up for themselves.
Why do the voices of women and girls matter?
They matter because the stories we see and hear are the stories we tell ourselves. If we can teach young girls that their voices matter, we are teaching them that their experiences and perspectives matter, that they are inherently valuable and that they have the right to be heard, respected and afforded equal chances throughout their lives. It also sends a message of solidarity to other young women to stand up and speak out.
Giving girls the tools to change their own lives can have a butterfly effect for their sisters and daughters, their families and nations. From Los Angeles to South Africa, girls from marginalized communities are learning to change the story with the help of GlobalGirl Media, an incredible organization that trains girls as journalists and advocates. Together, a new generation of young women are telling their stories and inspiring others to action.
For too long, the everyday experiences of women and girls have been missing from or misrepresented in popular media and public discourse. But just as media can be part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution.
During the Superbowl, MissRepresentation's #NotBuyingIt campaign mobilized social media to call out harmful, sexist portrayals of women in advertising. This Valentine's Day, V-Day's global 1 Billion Rising movement will take a stand in virtual and public spaces against gender-based violence. In the cinema and in the classroom, Girl Rising has brought girls' stories to the forefront with its moving narration from girls striving to overcome poverty and discrimination in their own lives. And at Harvard this month, the Girls Impact the World Film Festival will inspire young people to activism through art.
Girls deserve to be the narrators of their own stories. While obstacles remain, a new generation of activists are using media to create innovative, interactive experiences that teach, inspire and give voice to girls -- and the women they will grow up to be. It is a voice that will continue rising until we are all free -- free from fear of violence, free to choose who we love, free to define ourselves on our own terms and chase our wildest dreams.
The story of girls around the world is the story of our future.
Change the story, change the world.