I am 17 years old. I have spent the last 13 years of my life in a classroom where I am able to learn about the world around me, question it, and change it. My education has empowered me to engage with the world in ways that never would've been possible without it.
But there is another girl, also 17 years old, who was unable to continue school after the age of 12. She was married off and pregnant by age 15, dependent on her abusive husband. When she decided to leave him, she was unable to get a job due to her lack of an education. Therefore, she cannot afford to send her own children to school. She must sell her body to pay for food, exposing herself to countless diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
But we can change this picture for the 515 million girls in the developing world.
Educating girls is the most powerful investment anyone can make. The statistics are staggering. 1 in 4 girls in the developing world is not in school. But a girl with an education marries four years later and marries with choice. She has 2 fewer children, and is three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS, meaning her children won't suffer from the disease either. There is a direct relationship between the education of a mother and the health of her children. An education raises her salary by 25%, and she reinvests 90% of that back into her family, breaking the cycle of poverty. As Secretary Hilary Clinton said, educating girls is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart thing.
If 70% of the world's uneducated children are girls, why does less than 2 percent of every development dollar go towards our gender? Why is there still a stigma surrounding "feminism"?
The more I learn about this issue, the more my passion grows. Though the problem is huge, there are numerous opportunities for girls my age to make a real, tangible difference for the world. And as high school girls, our power is even stronger. We can help empower and educate our own generation, creating leaders for today and tomorrow.
I recently became a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, an initiative launched by the United Nations Foundation. We aim at engaging and raising awareness among hundreds of thousands of girls in America about the challenges that girls in developing countries face. I hope you will join me in learning from and supporting our peers across the world by joining our movement, giving a "high five," or attending a "Unite for Girls" rally in your area.
We can help change the futures of over 500 million girls. Educating a girl will immediately affect her life, soon her community, and eventually our world.
"Invest in a girl, and she'll do the rest." -The Girl Effect