When the Universal Human Rights Declaration was signed nearly 70 years ago, it set out a framework for protecting human rights for people all around the world. As we celebrate Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the signing of the declaration, we face the hard truth that we are falling far short of protecting human rights around the world. In no area is this clearer than the failure to protect far too many young girls.
Across the globe, the majority of the poorest billion of people are women and girls. More than 60 million girls worldwide are denied access to education. Violence, discrimination, poverty, and early pregnancy keep girls from school. And every year, millions of girls are forced into marriage. One out of every three girls in the developing world will be married by 18, further preventing educational opportunity.
Empowering girls is key to stronger communities and economies and investing in educating girls has big payoffs. Every year a girl spends in school raises her family income by up to 20 percent. Educating girls sets off a chain reaction- educated girls grow into educated women, who are more likely to educate their children.
Girls around the world need urgent attention. That's why I'm proud to be on the board of Good for Girls, a not-for-profit organization that supports girls in countries around the world to gain the education, skills, and self-esteem they need to become independent, empowered adults. Good for Girls partners with local organizations, like the Girls Gotta Run Foundation (GGRF) in Ethiopia, to help girls realize their full potential and be forces for change in their communities.
Our partner GGRF piloted an Athletic Scholarship program with a group of 15 secondary school girls from disadvantaged backgrounds who attend the Abba Pascal School for Girls in Sodo, Ethiopia. The girls in the program participate in a running team. As the national sport in Ethiopia, running plays an important role and is a source of pride in Ethiopian society. The girls also attend a life-skills course which teaches them about nutrition, financial literacy, and healthy relationships among other issues that affect their lives. The scholarships cover the costs of their training, education, meals, as well as health care for each girl and her mother.
Getting the girls engaged in athletics is an entry-point to challenge harmful gender stereotypes and practices such as child marriage, a cultural norm in Ethiopia often fueled by poverty.The running team represents a 'safe space' and peer-support group, and the scholarships help remove financial burdens on the girls' families so they can stay enrolled in school.
Focusing on empowering girls is not to the exclusion of empowering boys or any other group. We are not operating in a zero sum world. Rather, recognizing the unique challenges and disenfranchisement girls face helps target programs, partnerships and support to where it can make the most impact. On Human Rights Day, we must recognize girls' rights are human rights that deserve to be protected and advanced.