Mapping a Better Future for Girls Across the Globe

One of my vivacious nieces turns seven this week. Topping her list of wishes for a birthday gift are a globe or map of the world and a kids' encyclopedia, followed closely, of course, by a Lincoln Logs set; specifically, "the girl kind with pink roofs." As I contemplate the bubbly enthusiasm this first grader harbors for learning about and building her world, I also think of Wadley.

Wadley is one of nine inspiring girls profiled in Girl Rising, the new film by Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins. The stunning film is the heart of the 10 X 10 Campaign to educate and empower girls worldwide.  At age seven, Wadley shared my niece's love of learning but the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti demolished her home and school. She showed up at school everyday, insisting that "I will come back every day until I can stay." And come back she did, a testament to her spunk in the face of gender discrimination and to the incredible promise education holds for transforming the lives and livelihoods of girls, their families, and communities.


Last week's Women Deliver 2013 Conference, which brought together over 4,500 leaders and advocates representing 149 countries, concluded with a passionate call to invest in the future of girls.  The closing day's panels focused on the need to prioritize girls and women in the work leading up to  the 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline and in the current global conversations about mapping new goals for the post-2015 future.  Helen Clark, the United Nations Development Fund Administrator and Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, acknowledged that life has changed for the better for many girls and women since landmark global commitments were put in place.  Like many others, however, she also articulated a "burning sense of injustice that many girls and women do not enjoy fundamental human rights" including equitable access to education, healthcare, and safety.  Clark and other panelists called on members of the global community to add their voices to the conversation about imagining and building a better future for girls, women, and their families.  Many panelists also stressed the importance of listening to the visions of others, even when these differ from our own, and fostering the sorts of communication that can lead to effective joint action.

As part of The Lancet's special edition for the 2013 conference, Women Deliver published a We Have a Dream flipbook, inspired by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech, to capture people's dreams of "The World We Want for Girls." As Richard Horton says in the introduction, "A dream enables us to begin again, to renew our hope, to revivify our vision."

In Victoria Melhado's submitted poem entitled "Caribbean," she states:

Last night, I dreamt about the 'world we want';
Heard the pitter-patter of playing little feet,
Saw children smiling with missing front teeth, 
Little girls with ponytails, in frilly dresses and bobby socks-
Looked so sweet and neat.
Then suddenly, I awoke
to the frightening cries of abandoned babies;
The longing stares of hungry and malnourished children;
Bruised bodies and battered hands of girls who had been raped-
And given work too hard for their age,
I saw tears running down their pain distorted faces;
Feelings of hurt and betrayal seeped from their broken hearts.
Oh I wish we could have the world we want!...

The sometimes wrenching and often hopeful submissions to the flipbook, like the provocative conversations at the Women Deliver conference,  challenge us to articulate our own dreams of a future for girls. They ask us to examine how we can better listen to the dreams (and perhaps, sometimes, nightmares) of others. What's your dream of a world you'd want for your niece, your sister, your mother, your neighbor, yourself?  How can we all speak our own truth to power yet also find a language that enables us to build a map for transformation together?   Your vision may be shaped, as mine has been, by the dreams and experiences of others: by watching Girl Rising (airing in local theaters and on CNN on June 16th), reading the We Have a Dream flipbook, watching the video archives of the Women Deliver conference, talking to your family and friends, and getting out into your own community.  Then, find a way to contribute your voice to the global conversation.

As Women Deliver President Jill Sheffield noted in her closing remarks, "inspiration's natural result is action." Looking into the eyes of Wadley or the girls we encounter everyday,  we can be inspired to help build a world, piece by piece, in which girls' dreams can become reality--sometimes even including pink roofs, makeshift school roofs, and all! 

If you'd like to act after being inspired, some options to investigate include the 10 X 10 Fund for Girls' Education,  or Catapult, the crowd-funding community focused on improving the lives of girls and women.  You may also be interested in learning more about Girl Up, the United Nations Foundation campaign to involve American girls in addressing the challenges of girls worldwide.