Glued to the television in 2008, I remember many of my female friends and I holding our collective breath as we watched with fascination the rise of female contenders for the United States presidential ticket. Hillary Rodham Clinton's magnetic appeal first captured my imagination as a teenager in the 90's when I watched her speak as the First Lady at a stop in western Massachusetts. Even then, it was clear the women in the crowd wanted more for her. 'Hillary for President!' they had chanted. It stuck in my mind.
Fast-forward to today and I belong to a generation that is known as "the Millennials." Born in the 80′s, I graduated from high school in the future-looking Class of 2000. When Geraldine Ferraro was running for office, my mother tells me, I was only learning to crawl. I thought the Spice Girls were cool -- the ubiquitous British girl band who popularized the phrase "girl power." I watched a lot of "Xena: Warrior Princess." As I grew older, I jumped off cliffs and did sports and studied through the night at one of the "women's ivies."
It's no wonder that many young women across America found the political processes of the 2008 election so riveting. For me, it was the first time in my lifetime I had ever seen female leaders so high on the ballot and -- even better -- had the chance to vote for one. As the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2011 reveals, the United States ranks a dismal 39th place in world standings for women's political representation, behind developing nations like Bangladesh, Mozambique and Cuba.
Does it matter? Yes. It matters in the U.S.- - and more importantly -- it matters for the world.
We know that progress in gender equality is strongly linked to global development. In the past decade, efforts like the United Nations Millennial Development Goals have helped educate more children than ever before and narrow the gap in gender parity. But getting girls into school is just one piece of a much larger picture. What does it take for a girl to grow up into a leader who can change her community?
Along the road to adulthood, many young women across the globe face daily risks to their well-being and full development, including social, economic and cultural exclusion from the very choices that shape their lives. The Gender Gap index allows us to track women's equality across a range of indicators that include educational attainment, political representation, economic opportunity and health and survival.
Movements such as the Girl Effect, which tap the resources of the private sector and the political will of key policymakers, are helping to elevate the importance of investing in girls on the global agenda. Meanwhile, initiatives such as the White House Project are helping to galvanize women's political participation in the U.S., while others like the Women in Public Service project, recently launched by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are helping to cultivate a new generation of young female leaders around the planet.
We Millennials stand for many things. One of these is progress and greater promise for closing this gap.
For all the "female firsts" that we have seen and those yet to come, I hope our predecessors understand that they inspire a younger generation of women to action and to leadership. If I could say one thing to the great women around the world who have blazed trail after trail, it would be: We are watching. We are listening. We are your daughters, your legacy and the next wave of champions for women and girls.
This post originally appeared on The World Economic Forum blog.