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Last week, I joined thousands of world leaders, activists, civil society members, young people, organizational leaders, and yes – even the Pope – for the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held in New York City. This is my third year attending UNGA and the energy is always buzzing with talk about how we can improve the world and complete global development agendas set forth by the United Nations and leaders around the world.


uring the Assembly, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were a set of eight anti-poverty targets to be accomplished by 2015. Development practitioners, economists, organizations, governments and other stakeholders have spoken about the progress made towards the MDGs. These groups would also say there is still much more to be done in order to ensure a more prosperous and achievable agenda through The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aim to finish the agenda started by the MDGs. But for whom are these Goals really for?

Fifteen years ago, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted, I was sixteen years old. Crazy, right? At that time, I was just beginning to explore my love and passion for other cultures. I knew the path that appeared before me included working to understand and empower women, girls and communities around the world. Over the past ten years, I have had the privilege to both live in and travel to beautiful countries. In the past ten years (since I was 21), some of my most fruitful experiences in global development have taken me to the most unexpected places. I have learned and been a part of change for women and girls on dirt floors, in mud huts, on top of remote mountains and distant islands. It is in these safe and sacred spaces, I have listened to women’s and girls’ stories. I have watched young women and girls initiate conversations on gender based violence in their communities, work to improve maternal health through creating health responses and even go into the deepest of brothels to rescue young girls from being sexually exploited. I have seen women and girls empowered, healed, restored and strengthened through rallying their communities to understand the issues they face on a daily basis.

Can I be completely honest here? If I were to ask those women and girls, “What are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?” or “How have the MDGs improved your lives?”  I guarantee you most would have no clue what I was talking about. This is not because they are unintelligent or do not understand global development. They are actually some of the most intelligent women and girls I have ever met. It is simply because it does not affect their every day lives. The chasm between drafting and implementing global goals and the reality of what is happening to improve the lives of women, girls and communities is wide. World leaders sit behind closed doors to discuss development agendas that often are rarely implemented effectively and simply do not reach the most vulnerable. At the same time, young women, girls, and communities are working tirelessly to create change. Why are we calling for more action from the United Nations when we should focus our efforts on the change already happening for women and girls? The lives being empowered both at a local and grassroots level is astounding. Do we really need celebrities to endorse a cause to make it trendy or get people to listen? I don’t think so. We have amazing women and girls, those at the heart and center of the issues, they are the real celebrities.

In honor of the women and girls I have worked with over the past ten years, I want to share 17 ways we can continue to support grassroots change and ensure women, girls and communities are supported. Let’s call these HER goals.

  1. Stop talking and start listening. Listen to the incredible work happening to empower women, girls and communities around the world.
  2. Give. Consider supporting an organization empowering women and girls at the grassroots level.
  3. Go. Don’t take my word for it. Wherever you live you can find out who is working to create change for women and girls. If you live in the U.S., Africa, Asia or another region of the world. Explore who is creating change and consider joining them.
  4. Stay informed. There is so much grassroots change happening outside of top-down systems.
  5. Look for unique opportunities. The best conversations with women and girls you may have will be in the most unlikely places.
  6. Forget jadedness but be realistic. It can be difficult not to get bogged down in high-level political jargon. Instead let’s focus on supporting the change actually happening.
  7. Read about it. There are so many amazing books and resources highlighting grassroots change women and girls.
  8. Organize. Get together with a group of your friends and talk about the issues facing women and girls in your community and around the world.
  9. Know the facts. Research, research and do more research!
  10. Use your talents and gifts to volunteer and help in your spheres of influence.
  11. Empower a young girl or woman to share their story. We do not want to be voices for others but enable others voices to be heard.
  12. Learn about an issue. Take time every month to learn about something new.
  13. Invest in legit partnerships. There are so many wonderful organizations partnering with indigenous movements.
  14. Advocate.
  15. Add to this list! Do you have an idea? Please comment and share below!
  16. SHARE YOUR STORY. Want to comment or write about it? I would love to hear how you are working to create change for women and girls in your community.
  17. Take Action!! (see the helpful goals above)

I think these are acheivable goals we can all wrap our heads around. In fact, I know so many women, girls, men and boys who are doing this in their communities. Let’s be their champions. Because true change is often purely reflected in the every day lives of women and girls.

Cover Photo Credit: Jared Rodriquez, Flickr Creative Commons

The Conversation

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  1. I have a draft of a book about global girls’ issues and activism. I invite your critique and additions. Here’s the TOC
    Chapter 1 The Future is Female 67 pages
    Meet Young Women Leaders; What Motivates a Youth Activist?; the Future is Female?; Uppity Girls’ Rising Aspirations and Activism; Feminism, the United Nations and Governments Stimulate Equality; Young Men’s Viewpoints

    Chapter 2 Global Desire for Equality 55
    Equality is Desired Globally, More Females Desire Gender Equality, Girls Want Economic and Social Equality, Claims that Women Leaders are More Peaceful, Feminist Organizing, Inequality Persists in All Countries

    Chapter 3 Global Status of Young Women 55
    Rural Vs. Urban Sex Roles, Feminization of Poverty, Education, Health, Violence

    Chapter 4 Consumerism Targets “Girl Power” 44
    Materialistic Consumers of Products and Entertainment?; Teen Identity Through Consumption; Social Unrest from Rising Expectations; How Youth Are Manipulated by Multinational Corporations; Negative Consequences of Consumerism; Youth Views about Getting Rich; Traditional and Modern Beliefs: Moving Towards the Middle

    Chapter 5 Global Media Both Helps and Inhibits Girls 60
    Global Media is Pervasive, Global Media Provides New Information, Media Exposure Makes Youth Opinionated and Brave, Global Media Sells Consumerism, Media Addiction Creates Dumb Zombies

    Part 2 Regions
    Chapter 6 Feminist Waves in the West 97
    Second Wave Feminists of the 60s, Women’s Studies, Inequality Persists, Generation Gap, Third Wave Response, Rejection of Feminism?, Fourth Wave

    Chapter 7 Brave Women in Muslim Countries 61
    The Middle East, Women and Islam, Iran, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia

    Chapter 8 Egyptian Revolutionaries 44
    Traditional Male Dominance; Education; A Pioneering Feminist: Dr. Nawal El Saadawi’s Egyptian Union for Women; Young Women in the Revolution; After the Revolution; Sexual Harassment Persists

    Chapter 9 Women in Developing and Emerging Countries: Latin America 59
    Women and Development, Latin American Youth Issues

    Chapter 10 African Issues and Activists 44,

    Chapter 11 Feminism in India, an Emerging Superpower 52
    Youth Issues, The Gap Between the Rich and the Poor, Hybrid Youth Culture and Attitudes, Youth Activism in Politics, Traditional Sexism, Feminism

    Chapter 12 Socialist Countries–China 44
    The Setting, Traditional Beliefs, Rural vs. Urban Youth, Youth Issues in an Era of Change from Maoism to Capitalism, Current Chinese Issues

    Chapter 13 Russia 28
    History, Attitudes Towards Feminism, Consumerism and Glamour, Putin’s Nationalism vs. Rebels

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