The Power of the Adolescent Girl

When the Millennium Development Goals were implemented in 2000, Naw Cynthia was an adolescent girl striving for an education with little support from her family, her country of Myanmar, or the world at large.  Today, as global leaders recently met for the United Nations General Assembly to establish new goals for 2016, the face of this agenda is an adolescent girl – a girl in school, safe, not married off, and able to aspire to follow her dreams.

The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child on October 11th is ‘the power of the adolescent girl’.  Global communities are being called upon to commit to critical investments in quality education, skills, training, access to technology and other learning initiatives that prepare girls for life, jobs, and leadership.

The world recently witnessed the courage and power of an adolescent Pakistani girl, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafazi, who fought the Taliban for her right to attend school.  Malala’s story, detailed in her book I Am Malala and her upcoming documentary, He Named Me Malala, is an inspiration for girls all around the world.

However, it is not an easy journey for adolescent girls.  Naw Cynthia was one of five children with an absent father and a mother driven to beat her children.  As a young girl, Naw Cynthia was sexually abused by her neighbor.  These abuses seriously impacted her confidence. Yet she was determined to rise above her childhood and stand tall.  She knew that a good education would be her liberator.

Now a well-educated and respected proponent of quality education and literacy in Myanmar, Naw Cynthia is working to give today’s adolescent girls a voice and to encourage them to pursue their dreams through education.

Naw Cynthia readily shares her story with adolescent girls because she wants them to be strong and to not compromise their dreams.  She tells Burmese girls “You are NOT weak.  You are strong.  Do NOT let others look down on you.  And do NOT tolerate any form of abuse or harassment.”

Like so many women who juggle multiple responsibilities, Naw Cynthia worries she is not a good mother or a good leader or a good wife.  We believe she is an outstanding role model for girls and boys.  Naw Cynthia will teach her son to treat girls with respect and to value their contribution in the world.

Girls need inspirational role models like Naw Cynthia and Malala.   With approval from Malala Foundation, Educational Empowerment is translating I Am Malala into Burmese.  Soon it will be published in Yangon so Burmese girls can read Malala’s powerful story. Educational Empowerment is proud to be an advocate for girls’ rights at this pivotal time in history.  Girls need to know they have rights and how to access them.  Let’s all celebrate the power of the adolescent girl.

To take immediate action:

  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Become a champion for girls’ and women’s rights.
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment at donate.
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Educational Empowerment was created by women and for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities severely affected by poverty and injustice in Myanmar. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

Please visit us at & follow us on Facebook at EE, Twitter @EEmpower, and on Instagram.

‘Create our future by design, not by accident!’

Last night, I attended the UNGA event, Leader’s Forum on Women Leading the Way: Raising Ambition for Climate Action, hosted by UN Women and the Mary Robinson Foundation.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, addressed the attendees through video, and called on the group, on the eve of the Climate Summit, to forge a new agenda with bold and transformative action, and listen to the voices of women when creating a universal climate agreement for 2015.

Photo Credit: Liz Fortier
Photo Credit: Liz Fortier

The discussion from the event will be presented at the Climate Summit today.

Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, opened the discussion by remarking that women are ‘bearing the brunt of climate change’.

Women, who are the farmers and fishers, and who rely on the land for their livelihood, become more vulnerable with climate change.

The keynote speaker Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile, mentioned that women are 14 times more likely to be affected by natural disasters and, post disaster, women become more vulnerable to abuse and violence. In times of natural disasters, women are the care givers leaving themselves at higher risk. She explained that women play a central role in the world in our agriculture, water, and food systems. Women represent 65% of those who raise livestock. Women are not just affected by climate change, but have an understanding of the impact of climate change on the rest of the world.

Photo Credit: Liz Fortier
Photo Credit: Liz Fortier

The panel, moderated by Mary Robinson, included Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator; Christiana Figueres, Climate Change Secretariat, UNFCCC; Rachel Kyte, World Bank; Noelene Nabulivou, Pacific Partnerships to Strengthen Gender, Climate Change Response and Sustainable Development; Linidiwe Sibanda, Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network; Leena Srivastava, The Energy and Resource Institute University; and Riddhima Yadav, The Global Education and Leadership Foundation.

Attendees included Queen Rania Al Abdullah, of Jordan; Nadine Heredia de Humala, First Lady of Peru; Graça Machel, member of The Elders; and former Heads of State:

  • Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia
  • Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland
  • Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland
  • Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi
  • Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway
  • Aminata Touré, former Prime Minister of Senegal

Some current approaches by women for curbing climate change include ‘promoting green investments, developing energy-efficient technology, managing small-scale irrigation projects, engaging in efficient waste management systems, and boosting efforts to increase awareness and mobilize action.’

Panelist Rachel Kyte suggested that decisions about climate change should not only be decided by environment ministers, but other sectors, such as the economic sector. She said we need to reinvent how the decisions are made. For example, taxes could be determined according to impact on the environment. Women around the world balance their family’s money. They often work multiple, low-paying jobs, and they see the effect of climate change on their income on a daily basis. Climate change is closely related to the economy.

Other members of the panel stressed including and empowering women in decisions, measuring the effects of climate change accurately, and using data to prioritize short term and long term goals.

Eighteen-year-old Riddhima Yadav was the last to speak. She explained that she understands economics, unequal distribution of wealth, and the realities of climate change; however, what she cannot understand is gender inequality, and why women around the world have to fight everyday for education and literacy, face trafficking, abuse and humiliation, and domestic violence. She asks,

Despite all of the technology we have access to and the progress we are making, are we doing enough?

Her final message to our leaders was to collaborate on climate change, and “create our future by design, not by accident.”

Christiana Figueres, ended the panel discussion with her summary of Riddhima’s comments. Ms. Figueres said that to her, Riddhima is telling us,

This generation is not taking any crap!

Ms. Figueres remarked that her generation took a lot of ‘crap’ as if it was normal. She called on the women leaders in the room to commit to leaving not one seat behind them to women in their respective decision-making rooms, but to be sure to leave five.

Climate change is one of the biggest human rights issues of our time. Development cannot happen if climate change is not halted. Our generation has a challenge ahead of us.  We need to include the voices of women who are most affected by climate change, and who can find the right solutions.

Follow all the action surrounding the UN Climate Summit happening today!

September 21st-26th Girls’ Globe will be in New York for the 2014 UN General Assembly. We are partnering with FHI360, Johnson & Johnson, and Women Deliver in support of Every Woman Every Child to amplify the global conversation on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. Follow #MDG456Live, raise your voice and join the conversation to advance women’s and children’s health. Sign up for the Daily Delivery to receive live crowd-sourced coverage of these issues directly to your inbox.

International Day of Peace 2014

In Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize lecture, he compared the tremendous scientific achievements the world had made by the 1960s to the values we held as a society.

We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.

He went on to say, ‘This problem of spiritual and moral lag…expresses itself in three larger problems…Each of these problems, while appearing to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and war.’

This year’s International Day of Peace takes place when peace looks impossible to reach. Lately, the news has been discouraging. News of war, famine, violence and disease can be seen daily and for me, and I am sure for others, the news is frightening. Last week, Pope Francis remarked that the world’s many conflicts amount to piecemeal World War Three.

I think Martin Luther King’s words sadly ring true 40 years later.

The recent headlines include some of the most tragic events our history has seen including:

  • The shooting down of flight MH17, with its links to the unrest in Ukraine.
  • The conflict in Syria has amounted to more deaths and refugees than the genocide in Rwanda.
  • The beheading of journalist James Foley by ISIS and a few days later, Steven Sotloff, heroes who wanted to bring awareness to injustice.
  • The kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram.
  • Overcrowded boats of migrants capsizing trying to escape poverty.
  • A shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, MO.

Despite the complexity and confusion that surrounds these tragic situations, I think our society can overcome them. Even though we are not the ones in positions of power, we can not forget we have a voice. We live in a time where social media allows us to gain knowledge of global events more quickly and gives us the opportunity to raise our voice. Social media is a tool to understand  these issues affect everyone.

Photo Credit: Liz Fortier
Photo Credit: Liz Fortier

Girls’ Globe utilizes social media to track the progress of the Millennium Development Goals as they relate to women and children. The eight goals aim to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases, ensure environmental stability, and promote global partnership for development. Despite various barriers to achieving the goals, the one thing that would prevent any of them from occurring is the absence of peace. As Martin Luther King alluded to, racial injustice, poverty, and war, are still the major underlying factors preventing peace today.

Photo Credit: Liz Fortier
Photo Credit: Liz Fortier

The founder of Girls’ Globe, Julia Wiklander recently wrote about how women and children are the most vulnerable in times of conflict. Women are raped at higher rates, experience trauma, and newborns and pregnant women lack critical healthcare and nutrition. Education opportunities are minimized, and infectious diseases can spread more quickly in places without healthcare infrastructures.

The overflowing Syrian refugee camps are becoming places where sexual exploitation of displaced women and girls is common place. Women are objectified, bought and sold or kidnapped, and presented as gifts to leaders of some of these terrorists sects.

Despite how angry or scared we might feel about the horrifying events happening in the news, we must not think that perpetuating violence is the answer.  Let’s ask our leaders to promote policies for social and racial justice and peace. In this way we will more easily achieve the MDGs and protect those most vulnerable in times of war and conflict.

As Martin Luther King went on, he remarked on the nonviolent progress the US had made for civil rights in the years preceding, and the hope he had for a peaceful future.

Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.

We must now give an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in our individual societies.

If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war. -Martin Luther King Jr.

Want to take action?

Visit the UN’s International Day of Peace website to learn what others are doing to promote peace.

September 21st-26th Girls’ Globe will be in New York for the 2014 UN General Assembly. We are partnering with FHI360, Johnson & Johnson, and Women Deliver in support of Every Woman Every Child to amplify the global conversation on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. Follow #MDG456Live, raise your voice and join the conversation to advance women’s and children’s health. Sign up for the Daily Delivery to receive live crowd-sourced coverage of these issues directly to your inbox.