Invest in Girls

11/10/2012 00:57 BST | Updated 30/12/2012 23:26 GMT

To say that 11 October, the International Day of the Girl, is an important day for girls around the world would be an understatement. Adopted by the United Nations last year, the International Day of the Girl is a critical day for girls around the world. It's a day to celebrate the power of girls, recognize their unique struggles, and champion their cause.

Girls are more likely to be malnourished, forced into early marriage, subjected to violence, trafficked, or sold. But these trends can be reversed when girls are given the necessary tools to succeed in societies that promote and support equality.

Ensuring gender equality starts with ensuring that girls can claim their right to education. The reality for millions of girls around the world is bleak. There are 39million 11-15 year-old girls out of school. These girls face a lifetime of limitations that affect their health, status, earning power, and relationships with everyone around them.

Without equal access to education, gender equality can never truly be achieved.

Girls leave school to help at home, or because their families are not convinced that educating their daughters has real value, or because they get married at an early age. They drop out just because they are girls, and their worth to their families and communities is a domestic one. Girls in the poorest households are the most likely to be excluded from school altogether.

A life without education leaves these girls even more vulnerable and with no real choices. It also limits the potential of her family, community, and country.

In July, I traveled with Plan to India to witness firsthand the transformative power of education in the lives of girls and their families. I visited with mothers and children in a slum in Hyderabad and attended a Lambada tribal women's gathering in Andhra Pradesh. The women I met all said the same thing: entire families and communities are changed when girls go to school.

Everyone I encountered on my journey was truly inspiring, even when faced with monumental challenges like acute shortages of clean drinking water, limited access to health care, and lack of schools. I was moved by their joy, warmth, and determination. I felt particularly touched by the story of a young woman in Hyderabad. Madhavi dropped out of school due to her family's financial difficulties when she was only 16, and took a job as a sales girl in a textile shop. At her young age, she was already facing a lifetime of hardship due to lack of education, resources, and opportunity.

But one day, a community volunteer offered her the opportunity to take computer classes through Teen Channel, a partnership with Plan and CAP Foundation. Teen Channel is an innovative project that provides learning opportunities for disadvantaged young people. Through community learning centers, Teen Channel reaches out to those who can't attend traditional school and provides opportunities and support for high school completion. Initially reluctant to enroll because she believed computer classes weren't a place for girls, Madhavi eventually decided to invest in her future and register.

Community programs like the one Madhavi enrolled in offer three opportunities for girls like her - a chance to complete their education in a flexible manner, receive life skills training, and access further vocational training. These opportunities translate into higher earning potential and brighter futures for girls and their families.

After completing her studies and working as a data entry operator, Madhavi became an integral part of the very program that she enrolled in years before. Grateful for the opportunities education afforded her and dedicated to helping girls like her, Madhavi joined CAP Foundation. She is now a student counselor in charge of nine communities, and she works tirelessly to help girls transform their lives and lift themselves out of poverty.

I was so touched by Madhavi's story, and by the stories I heard from the many women I had the privilege to meet. They have the same dream for their daughters that I have for my two girls - to be healthy, to live in a society that respects their rights, and to have an education that will give them the tools to realize their fullest potential and achieve their dreams.

Education alone is not a cure for all of the world's ills, but access to quality education can give girls the skills and competencies they need to choose their own life path, have healthy relationships, and make positive decisions about their bodies and their health.

Governments around the world have the power to change the reality for girls. By recognising the International Day of the Girl, and incorporating its spirit into policymaking, girls will have the tools they need to take their place as equal citizens. Please join me in calling on policymakers and governments to not only prioritize education, but broaden that ambition to include an intentional emphasis on gender equality. Please go to and show your support for this crucial movement. By investing in girls, we can change the world.