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Moira McCann Moderelli is a writer for 10×10, a global action campaign for girls’ education, with the new feature film, “Girl Rising,” at its core. “Girl Rising” was produced by the award-winning team of former ABC news journalists at The Documentary Group in association with Vulcan Productions, strategic partner Intel Corporation, and distribution partner CNN Films.

How do you end global poverty? As questions go, that’s a pretty big one. The kind that’s too big to tackle in an easily accessible way. The kind that can make you turn away, frustrated and powerless. But the filmmakers behind the new feature film, Girl Rising, didn’t turn away. They were committed to finding an answer – propelled by the most basic tenet of journalism: follow the truth wherever it leads.

So they asked that question. Again and again. They asked policy leaders, economists, experts in agriculture and health and so on. And the same answer kept coming back.

How do you end global poverty? Educate girls.

Simply put: educating girls is the highest return on investment you can make to break cycles of poverty. Research shows that an educated girl will marry later, have fewer children, and educate the children she does have – sons and daughters equally. She is more likely to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS, and less likely to be a victim of domestic violence. She’ll earn more money, and is more likely to become a community leader.

But the other overarching truth that the filmmakers encountered at every turn was this: girls around the world face barriers to their education that boys do not – and the upshot is, they are being left behind by the millions. Gender violence, discrimination, bonded servitude, school fees (parents who are forced by economic necessity to choose almost always educate sons over daughters)… and the situation that three of the girls in the film faced: early or forced marriage. Marrying very young typically ends a girl’s education. Having children while still a child herself is often accompanied by physical, emotional and economic hardship.

The research is there. But few people are inspired by facts and figures, so the “Girl Rising” team found stories behind the statistics. The film, directed by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins, spotlights nine extraordinary girls from nine countries, whose stories are written by nine celebrated writers and narrated by nine renowned actresses.

But Girl Rising is not about being uplifting: it’s about telling the truth. It’s about real life. Life is messy, life is hard – and life is beautiful and striving and hopeful and changeable. Just like the girls of Girl Rising. Girls who are not victims, not heroes – simply tellers of their own stories. The truth is complex – and these filmmakers trust their audience to understand that.

They also give viewers a way to become a part of an exciting movement. A portion of ticket proceeds goes to the 10×10 Fund for Girls’ Education, and we encourage any- and everyone to contribute directly to the fund. To learn more, and to donate, go to: girlrising.com. And that will make you feel good. But Girl Rising is not a mere “feel good” film – it’s a feel real film.

And you will leave it knowing this: when you educate girls, extraordinary things happen.

Girl Rising is in theaters beginning March 7th. Find a theater near you.

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The Coalition for Adolescent Girls (CAG) gave its first statement at the Commission for the Status of Women this year. The statement was delivered by an adolescent girl from Girls Learn International.   Following is the statement:

I am an adolescent girl and I address you today on behalf of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls, a network of over 40 civil society organizations working on behalf of girls like me.

I am an adolescent girl.

I stand in a gap.  I am no longer a child but I am not yet a woman: my needs are unique.

I live in every village, every town, every city and every region of the world, although you may have to look hard to find me – I may be out of school, already married or working in someone’s home with no ability to leave.

I have a voice but it is often not heard.

I have opinions but it is rare that I am asked to share them.

Ask me what it means to be an adolescent girl where I live.

When adolescent girls are safe, educated, healthy and empowered, we can create lasting change within our communities and end generations of poverty.

All forms of violence against adolescent girls reinforce overall ill health and diminish our ability to fully realize our rights, obtain a quality education, become an economically productive member of society, and actively participate in civic life.

The people and institutions charged with taking care of us, often fail to do so.

Adolescent girls are subjected to female genital mutilation in preparation for marriage.

Adolescent girls are treated as pieces of property – sold or traded into early marriage.  Every year 14 million of us are married before we turn 18.

Adolescent girls are sexually assaulted – by soldiers, peacekeepers, teachers, the police, their parents, their husbands …

Adolescent girls are trafficked into sexual slavery  – sold by those who make money from their bodies and bought by those who steal pleasure from them.

Adolescent girls are made pregnant while our bodies are still developing – while we are too young to give birth.  Too many of us are dying.

Adolescent girls are subjected to domestic and intimate partner violence.

Adolescent girls often do not know or have access to information about our sexual and reproductive rights or how to make healthy and informed choices concerning our bodies.

Help us care for our health and you will improve the lives of the children we may choose to have in the future.

Involve our families, religious leaders, teachers, men, boys, women and girls in shifting the cultural norms that condone violence against adolescent girls to those that prevent and punish violence against us.

We count.  Include adolescent girls in your programming.

Education and financial literacy empower us.

We want to learn:  educate us.

Ask us if your programs are effective and if they meet our needs or have an impact on our lives.

We are adolescent girls.  We are not invisible.

We want you to collect and share the data that tells our stories.

We have the right to live a life free from violence.

Laws must be enacted and enforced that protect our rights.

We need real access to justice when our rights are violated.

I am an adolescent girl.

Adolescent girls are asking you, the Member States, to commit to developing a global implementation plan of all the treaties and laws that already exist to end violence against me, and all women and girls.

We are adolescent girls.  Hear us.

This post, written by Jeff Meer, originally appeared on the PHI website and is available here.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) holds its annual meeting from March 4 – 15 at the UN headquarters in New York. This year, approximately 3,000 women and men from around the world will attend.  The priority theme for this year’s meeting is “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”  Public Health Institute (PHI), which is an accredited NGO, is sending a small delegation to the meeting, including representatives from PHI projects Global Youth Coalition on AIDS, and What Works for Women and Girls in HIV/AIDS. Gillian Dolce, Melanie-Croce Galis and Jill Gay plan to attend UNCSW sessions, participate in side meetings and network.  

In addition, PHI produced a statement for inclusion in the record at the Commission meeting; read our recommendations to the international community to eliminate violence against women and girls and to mitigate the harmful effects of violence that does occur.

Since 1975, the world has observed International Women’s Day—a day to celebrate and honor the achievements of and for all women, past and present. This year’s theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”

Violence against women and girls is most often perpetrated by someone the woman knows. Child abuse, intimate partner violence, acquaintance and date rape, are all examples. It is estimated that as many as 76% of women experience physical or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner over the course of their lifetime. It is estimated that 50% of all sexual assaults occur against girls age 15 or younger. Nonconsensual sex takes many forms, including forced sex, transactional sex, cross-generational sex, unwanted touch, and molestation and often goes unreported. Perpetrators can be strangers, peers, intimate partners, family members, and authority figures such as teachers. In 2002, 150 million girls under the age of 18 experienced sexual violence; too often, adolescents’ first sexual experience is forced or coerced.

Harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting and early marriage are also examples of the widespread violence against adolescent girls. To date, over 130 million girls have undergone female genital cutting and an estimated 30 million are at still risk. Approximately 10 million adolescent girls become child brides each year. Child brides are denied the right to determine whom or when they marry. Furthermore, married girls are often forced to leave school at a young age as a result of early marriage and are at greater risk for sexual violence. The tradition of early marriage is sometimes associated with other forms of violence such as spousal rape and dowry- or honor-related violence. Each year, approximately 5,000 women and girls die because of dowry-related murders. An estimated 5,000 adolescent girls and women are killed by family members in the name of honor annually.

In any form, violence against adolescent girls and young women has negative consequences. This can mean the immediate physical consequence of a violent act or long-term mental health consequences. Other examples of the effects of GBV include unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and death. “Every girl and woman should be able to live safely and free of violence. Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated.”—UN Women

Learn more about International Women’s Day
Find International Women’s Day Events
Discover resources on youth and gender based violence
Listen to the first song ever released by the UN System “One Women”

Kate Grant is CEO of The Fistula Foundation, a nonprofit that works to end the suffering caused by the childbirth injury of obstetric fistula. Follow the organization online on Twitter and on Facebook.

Gul lives in Afghanistan. At the age of 13, she became the second wife of a much older man. One year later, Gul was pregnant. When the time came for her to deliver her baby, Gul endured three excruciating days of prolonged obstructed labor. With no doctors or clinics near her home, the only “treatment” she received during labor was a sacrificial sheepskin laid over her belly. The baby did not survive.

Afterward, Gul found that she could not control her urine. What Gul thought was an illness was actually the childbirth injury of obstetric fistula, an injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor. Fistula is preventable when a woman has access to emergency medical intervention, such as a C-section, and curable only through a fistula repair surgery that costs as little as $450.

Gul suffered 12 years of incontinence and shame before learning of CURE International Hospital in Kabul. She and her husband rode a bus for four days to get to the hospital, but it was worth the trip: Gul’s surgery was successful and she was no longer incontinent.

My organization, The Fistula Foundation, works with pioneering organizations like CURE International Hospital to fund treatment for women who are suffering the misery and shame that accompanies obstetric fistula. Too often, these women are actually girls like Gul, who give birth too early in life, before their bodies have fully matured.

Most of us want to do something to help girls like Gul, but it can be hard to figure out how to help when Gul and other women suffering from obstetric fistula live so far away, in cultures we don’t always understand. But what if you could do something right now to help heal girls and women with fistula in the developing world? And what if helping was as simple as playing a game?

Today, it is. Half the Sky Movement: The Game launches today on Facebook. It’s the next phase in the Half the Sky Movement, a call to action to end the oppression of women and girls worldwide, centered around the book and documentary film of the same name by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In the game, players progress through a series of quests and stories related to challenges that real-world women and girls face, through examples provided by The Fistula Foundation and the six other NGO partners featured in the game: GEMS, Heifer International, United Nations Foundation, ONE, Room to Read and World Vision.

The game gives all of us an opportunity to learn more about problems affecting women in the developing world, such as obstetric fistula. It also empowers us with a chance to act online for real-world change offline, thanks to our long-term partner, Johnson & Johnson, which has committed $250,000 to support surgeries for women in the developing world through this game.

So, for perhaps the first time in history, you can help a woman with fistula, like Gul, get the surgery she desperately needs – simply by playing a game.

Alexandra Hervish is an international education specialist with nearly 10 years of experience in capacity building, training and youth development. She has adapted and delivered policy communications workshops for youth and adults in both international and domestic settings. In addition, Alex has developed multimedia presentations that use innovative technologies to educate global and country-level audiences about population, health, and environment issues.

© 1999 Song Kimhour, Courtesy of PhotoshareIn January, the InternationalCenter for Research on Women (ICRW) and the United Nations Foundation (UNF) hosted a discussion about milestones in adolescent and youth health and development. All of the presenters emphasized the need for a holistic approach to the health and development of young people—one that enables them to delay marriage and childbearing, access youth-friendly health services, prevent the onset of mental disorders and non-communicable diseases, and thrive in a supportive environment. Amanda Keifer of the Public Health Institute highlighted that with the creation of the Bali Global Youth Forum Declaration, the global community is moving in the right direction by putting young people’s rights at the heart of development.

However, a participant raised an interesting point during the event:  if we have compelling arguments about the importance of investing in adolescents and youth, why can’t we translate this information into tangible financial and political commitments? In my opinion, there are two distinct, yet inter-related answers to this question:

  1. We just do not have enough data. Upon opening the 8-page “centerfold” from the Lancet series on adolescents, one would immediately notice the abundance of dashes in lieu of data points for many countries around the world (particularly low- and middle-income countries). In fact, we only just recently calculated how many adolescents die every year. Contrary to what many would assume (after all, adolescence is considered the healthiest time of a person’s life), the figure is rather high: in 2004, 2.6 million people ages 10-24 died, with deaths increasing from adolescence into young adulthood.
  2. Even when we have reliable data, we are not doing enough with it. Though far from a complete picture, we have quite a bit of data about the sexual and reproductive health status of young people thanks to several large-scale surveys. But certainly, we cannot expect to achieve the types of investments we need across all sectors—health, education, economic development, governance, and gender, among others—if these data remain on our bookshelves and do not get into the hands of decision makers who determine funding levels and government priorities.

And that’s where we come into the picture. At the Population Reference Bureau, we are in the business of communicating technical data and research to decision makers in compelling, clear formats. One of the ways we achieve this goal is through our ENGAGE presentations. Integrating Trendalyzer and multimedia software platforms, ENGAGE presentations explore associations among fertility, health, economic, and environment indicators in a visually stimulating way. They have been used to define agendas, focus discussions, and encourage dialogue about solutions to today’s development challenges.

And there is even a presentation about young people! The ENGAGE presentation The Time is Now:  Invest in Sexual and Reproductive Health for Young People delivers evidence-based messages about how sexual and reproductive health investments protect the well-being of young people and advance social and economic development. Using data and graphics, the presentation seeks to prioritize sexual and reproductive health for young people on policy agendas in sub-Saharan Africa. The presentation is available online in narrated and un-narrated formats in French and English with supporting presenter materials. And there are other issue-focused presentations to explore about family planning and poverty reduction as well as country-specific presentations and mini presentations.

It will take time to populate all of the dashes from the Lancet series with data points. But in the meantime, using policy advocacy tools that are available to us (like ENGAGE presentations) we can educate leaders about the importance of investing in young people to maximize their potential for healthy, productive lives.

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This blog is brought to you by the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) with financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The content is managed by FHI, which functions as the secretariat for the IYWG.
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