17/11/2011 18:12 GMT | Updated 17/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Let's Not Forget the Needs of Girls Abroad

In overseas development work, girl power is alive and well.

It's not a throwback to the 1990s pop scene; rather it's a pragmatic concept that can inspire long term change in families, communities and nations. Over the last 30 years, I've sponsored 21 girls through the international children's charity Plan UK, because the organisation concentrates on the Because I am a Girl campaign, and puts young girls at the heart of its work.

So why girls? Firstly, they are the worst affected by poverty. They are more likely than boys to suffer from malnutrition, die before the age of five and be trafficked.

In a poor family in a developing country, parents are more likely to pay for their boys, rather than their girls, to go to school. Often females are viewed as financial assets - to be sent to work to earn money or to be married off for dowries.

Boys receive more investment as they're considered as future breadwinners. Meanwhile girls who aren't yet teenagers can end up wives and mothers, facing hugely increased risks of dying in pregnancy and childbirth. Too often, they face violence, hunger and are simply not given the right to decide their own future.

If we disrupt this pattern, we can unlock amazing potential and upset the cycle of poverty. The saying goes that if you educate a girl, you educate a nation. If girls are supported to gain skills and stay in education, and if they receive support from government and their communities, they are much more likely to realise their rights and to help reduce poverty in the long term.

An educated girl is more likely to be healthy and literate and to be generous about passing on the skills and advantages she's gained to her extended family. An educated girl is also more likely to invest her income back into her family, her community and her country. Even from a strictly economic angle, concentrating on girls makes sense.

Besides continuing development work, we also need to pay special attention to girls in disaster situations - such as the current food crisis in Kenya and across East Africa. Plan UK's research shows that girls are some of the hardest hit - they may never have been taught the skills to deal with an emergency and they're often the last to eat what little food exists.

Furthermore, they are particularly at risk of sexual abuse during such times of upheaval. I've heard tales of girls attacked on their way to refugee camps and tackling the dangers of sharing sleeping, bathing and toilet facilities with men in the tumult of emergency shelters.

Plan works to equip girls around the world with the skills they need to best survive in these kinds of situations. Plan staff members teach girls first aid, how to swim and climb, and how to develop early warning systems for disasters like floods, food crises and earthquakes.

Girl power is thriving and can have a transformational effect on communities by reducing poverty and championing human rights. But we need men and boys on board, as well as women, to help shift the barriers that girls face every day and which prevent them fulfilling their potential. Communities need to work together to shape a more equal and just society, that can facilitate lasting and positive change.

So with this year's BBC Children in Need appeal upon us, shining a light on child poverty and raising vital funds in the UK, let's not forget the needs of girls abroad.

There's no better time to sponsor a girl through Plan, visit