10/14/2014 12:00 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2015

Everyone Wins When We Invest In Girls

I’m fortunate enough to get to do what I love. A great education helped me reach my goals, and I’m thankful for that every day. It's important to me to pay it forward by using my voice -- on behalf of the girls we can’t hear.

In 2011, the United Nations declared Oct. 11 a day to celebrate girls and recognize the unique struggle that millions of them face around the world.

Girls in developing countries are confronted by all kinds of barriers that keep them from reaching their full potential: early and forced marriage, extreme poverty, lack of clean water and denial of education prevent their ability to thrive. Without the tools to beat the odds, they are likely to marry young and will face a lifetime of limitations that affect their health, status and earning power. And it’s cyclical – when a girl grows up in extreme poverty with little to no education, her children are also likely to suffer.

In many societies, educating girls just isn’t a priority, and there are a number of factors that discourage attendance:

  • Girls are saddled with the bulk of domestic responsibilities, including the burden of finding clean drinking water daily.
  • Girls who face long, unprotected walks to school are at risk of being harassed or attacked.
  • Schools may lack girls-only bathrooms, which may prevent girls from going to school altogether because they aren’t afforded the safety of privacy.

But working to solve these problems can lead to incredible results. When communities invest in girls, the cycle of poverty starts to break down – and the cycle of opportunity begins.

It can start with something simple; for example, communities can raise girls’ school enrollment rates more than 15 percent by building girls-only latrines. And for every extra year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 15 to 25 percent. A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV. And a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5. In other words, these girls will no longer be stuck – and their children will have increased opportunities as well.

This is not just a girl thing. It’s an everyone thing. We must work to ensure that everyone has the same access to basic human rights like food, safety, clean water, health care, and education. There is a role we all can play in this – men, boys, women, and girls. Supporting the healthy development of girls around the world is not only our collective moral duty, but is also in our best interest. A country’s GDP can increase by 3 percent if just 10 percent more of the girls in their country are going to school.

Everyone wins when we invest in girls.

The prospect of changing something this big is daunting, but let’s start with making sure that girls have equal access to education. There are 62 million girls missing from classrooms worldwide. It's our responsibility to make sure that those aren't 62 million opportunities lost.

Because I believe so passionately in this issue, I recently joined Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign as an Ambassador. By recognizing the International Day of the Girl, and incorporating its spirit into policymaking at every level of government, Plan aims to give girls the tools they need to take their place as equal citizens. I’m asking for your support to ensure that children everywhere have the same access to opportunity.

So please join me in standing up for girls. If we all act, things can really change.

Please visit the Because I am a Girl – Be Bold Crowdrise site to show your support for this crucial movement by joining me or creating your own fundraising page. Let’s be bold: by investing in girls, we can change the world.