Last month, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize nominee in history. Less than six months earlier, she was shot at point-blank range by those who wanted to silence her for promoting girls' education in her native Pakistan. In a world that too often punishes and oppresses women, and tells girls that they cannot achieve, Malala is a beacon of hope.
Courageous girls and women like Malala are changing the world. She embodies the essence of the "girl effect" - the notion that empowering girls and women will catalyze a ripple effect of positive outcomes, central to driving global development and progress.
When we invest in women, they, in turn, invest in their families and communities, driving development at all levels. The World Bank's 2012 World Development Report found that improvements in a woman's education, health and agency are directly linked to her country's economic growth. These benefits are passed to future generations - educated women have healthier children with higher immunization rates, better nutrition and lower mortality rates.
In 2000, when we established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to improve the health and wellbeing of the world's poorest citizens, the global community acknowledged the need to focus on girls and women by including development benchmarks for gender equality and maternal health in the MDG framework.
Over the past 13 years, we have been marginally successful at meeting these targets - making enough progress to be proud, but not enough to truly celebrate. Now, as the 2015 MDG deadline nears, we have a rare opportunity to be truly honest with ourselves about how far we haven't come, what we can do better and how we can go further in the coming decades.
Looking back, one lesson is crystal clear: when we finally put girls and women at the center of our development agenda - instead of on the sidelines - we will see exponential progress.
Over the course of my 30-year career as a women's health activist and leader of maternal health advocacy organization Women Deliver, I have seen it play out time and again. At recent consultations hosted by Women Deliver with national and regional organizations and advocates, we heard the same story - when we invest in women, they invest in their children's education, their health, their families and their businesses, helping to propel whole nations forward. Women are delivering for their communities, but they're still waiting for the world to deliver for them. Now, we have an opportunity to make good on our end of the bargain.
Over the next few weeks, a group of high-level development experts are deciding their fate - determining the goal posts for the post-2015 development agenda, which they will present to the United Nations Secretary-General in late-May. You will not be surprised when I say it is paramount that girls and women are at the heart of this agenda.
It is encouraging to see that the High-Level Panel members seem to recognize that girls and women are key to global development. The panel has already identified ending violence against women, promoting women's political participation and empowering women in social and economic sectors as priority issues for the post-2015 agenda. If we are to continue making global progress for years to come, this post-2015 agenda must call for renewed and increased commitments to girls and women.
Just days before the High-Level Panel releases their final recommendations, thousands of advocates for girls' and women's health and rights will come together at the 2013 Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for one last call-to-action. Women Deliver's 2007 and 2010 conferences helped place girls and women on the world's agenda by generating significant political and financial commitments needed to bring about real change - and the 2013 conference will be no different. Women Deliver 2013 will be a critical moment to galvanize the global community to reaffirm women's rights as human rights and change the world.
Investing in the health of girls and women is a solution to every development problem. Focusing on this key issue will alleviate poverty, stabilize societies, spur economies and advance the wellbeing of families, communities, and ultimately, our world overall. Now is the time to secure a central place for girls and women on the global agenda. We owe it to Malala and the millions like her who, in the face of unthinkable adversity, are striving every day to make the world a better place. It's time - time to invest in girls and women.