Behind the statistics, girls worldwide are using digital media to speak their minds and bare their souls. The force of their voices are staggering -- the reality of their untapped potential for global leadership impossible to ignore.
When I was a girl I was shy and spent a great deal of time alone. I would lie behind our family's old barn on a patch of land in the countryside straining to feel the earth spinning on its axis underneath me.
Little could I have imagined that a day was coming when girls like me would stop being invisible and the world would begin to revolve around us.
Today the development sector is abuzz with the power of girls. Girl leaders representing some 600 million girls globally are increasingly stepping into their power, claiming their voices, using new technologies, and driving a cascade of change geared to lift up their sisters. They are pushing for a paradigm shift and giving input into global agendas: In June, twenty-one girls gathered to advise leaders at the G20 Summit on issues most important to them.
Even language is changing: world leaders and funders are starting to say "girls and women" instead of "women and girls." New research and data is "making the case" that educated girls and women invest in their families and communities, improving health outcomes, delaying marriage, and decreasing early pregnancies. The theory of the "Girl Effect" is now gospel.
Sadly, it is still rare to hear girls speaking for themselves. And it is still rare to hear girls' visions for change in their own words.
Yet girls worldwide are using digital media to speak their minds and bare their souls; it is time for us to listen to them. Recently, World Pulse crowd-sourced testimonies and solutions from girls and women from more than 60 countries. We listened deeply to their lived experiences as girls and their visions for expanding access to education as part of our Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.
We quickly discovered that the combined force of girls' voices is staggering--the reality of their untapped potential for global leadership impossible to ignore. They are living proof of the ripple effect of access to education and technology.
I think of Sangita from Nepal who describes her drive to write on behalf of girls as ghosts of those who have not been heard calling her to use the internet to speak out.
"It is as if hundreds of poltergeists are within me, to remind me that I have responsibilities, obligations," she writes. "These groan in each educated individual's soul, for we must not remain silent. This deafening silence is an injustice to those millions of girls who don't and perhaps will never enjoy the precious right to education and emancipation."
I think of Nakinti of Cameroon, whose younger sisters delayed their own education in favor of working on the farm so that Nakinti and her older sisters could benefit from schooling. The older sisters, once successful, turned around to work on the farm to support the education of their younger sisters. Now she gives back to more girls.
"Whenever I go to the village, I move from home to home to find out how their girl children are faring in school," Nakinti says. "I talk to parents on the importance of girl child education. Many parents say they don't need to be told any more, they say they admire the huge success that females of my family have achieved, and so their daughters must become like girls in my family."
Or Pelamutunzi in Zimbabwe whose traumatizing experience menstruating in school led her to build a vision to roll out a program to distribute sanitary wear to needy children in rural areas whilst building awareness among communities about educating girls.
"It is time to help girls be a lifeline for each other, for girls to rise up and swim in the pool of unity," she says.
Now, technology is speeding up the pace of change, making it so that more girls than ever can rise up. They are accessing online education; reading mobile content; and breaking through isolation via supportive online communities like World Pulse. Their ability to "pay it forward" is multiplying, reaching a tipping point, and generating a wave that can reach into the communities of the most silenced and illiterate girls. Girls will be the ones pioneering new ways to deliver education to grow armies of girl leaders in every city and village.
There is a long way to go before every society puts girls at the center. However, with the power of technologies and the raw, outspoken determination of girls, I can feel under my feet the earth's axis spinning towards that day a little faster. The global girl tipping point is within earshot.