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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: 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.


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.

© 2007 Sean Hawkey, Courtesy of PhotoshareOne out of every eight people is a girl or young woman between the ages of 10 and 24 and approximately 600 million adolescent girls live in the developing world. Adolescent girls are among the most vulnerable people in the world; they face multiple inequalities and experience negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Every year 3 million girls are at risk of female genital cutting in Africa. Every day more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married. Adolescent females are disproportionally affected by the HIV epidemic; females make up more than 60% of all young people living with HIV. Young women face high rates of early and unintended pregnancy, and childbirth-related complications are the number one cause of death among adolescent girls ages 15–19.

Along with myriad sexual and reproductive health challenges, adolescent girls also face multiple economic disparities. Of all out-of-school youth, 70% are girls. Globally, young women are less likely to be employed than young men and earn lower wages than young men. Furthermore, increased household responsibilities among adolescent girls hinder their ability to find work outside of the home and to attend school.

However, with the right skills and opportunities, girls are able to invest in themselves now and in their families later. When girls are able to stay in school, delay marriage, postpone pregnancy and reach their full potential, they and their families are better educated and healthier. By intervening to counter risks that exist and by promoting positive relationships and behaviors for girls, we are investing in the women and leaders of our future.

Research suggests that multisectoral program approaches to adolescent girl’s health and economic empowerment can improve negative outcomes. We can only do so much to improve access to education or build economic opportunities, for example, if we are not also helping protect young people from HIV, treating those living with HIV, or preventing early and unintended pregnancy. We must work toward a generation of young people healthy enough to enjoy the benefits they might reap from other development opportunities.

To discuss the importance of a multisectoral approach to adolescent girls’ health and well-being as well as to exchange knowledge across countries to inform and transform practice in this area, FHI 360 on behalf of the IYWG, with the Youth Health and Rights Coalition, and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls is hosting an e-forum “Girl-Centered Development: What Are We Really Doing?” Join moderators from USAID, Population Reference Bureau, Population Council, CARE, Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa, and ICRW February 27-28 and be a part of this pivotal conversation.

You can participate in the discussion—before, during, and after the e-forum—on Twitter (hash tag #girlsatthecenter)

Tomorrow, February 14th 2013, marks the fifteenth anniversary of the V-day campaign to end violence against women and girls. Through their One Billion Rising campaign, V-day organizers are inviting activists around the world to rise, dance and “join in solidarity, purpose and energy and shake the world into a new consciousness.” One Billion Rising was developed in response to the staggering statistic that one in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than 1 billion women and girls.
Violence against women and girls is most often perpetrated by someone the woman knows. Intimate partner violence, rape, “honor” killings, female genital cutting, and human trafficking are all examples of violent acts committed against women and girls. In all parts of the world, adolescent girls experience violence at astronomical levels.

Harrowing numbers:

  • Approximately 50% of all sexual assaults occur against girls age 15 or younger.
  •  In 2002, 150 million girls under the age of 18 experienced sexual violence, and many times, adolescents’ first sexual experience is forced or coerced.
  • One in five females will be a victim of rape in her lifetime.
  • Between 15% and 76% of women experience physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner over the course of their life.
  • Between 2 to 4 million people are trafficked in and across borders each year and females account for 98% of all trafficking victims.
  • Approximately 10 million adolescent girls become child brides each year.
  • 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 every year.
  • Over 130 girls have undergone female genital cutting and an estimated 30 million are at still risk.

These numbers are unacceptable. Violence against adolescent girls curtails their education and opportunities; it can lead to poor health and psychological outcomes. Repercussions include unwanted pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and death. Violence against women and adolescent girls hinders their ability to thrive and is a blatant violation of their human rights. We can all take a stand and join the movement to end violence against women. Learn how you can take part here: One Billion Rising.

This post, written by Amy Babchek from the Nike Foundation, originally appeared on the Girl Effect website and is available here.

Girls are finally on the agenda for family planning pledges, but misinformation about their needs and behavior stops girls getting access to the advice and resources they need for family planning. Amy Babcheck from the Nike Foundation is myth-busting.

At this year’s London Summit on Family Planning, global leaders pledged funds and resources for an additional 120 million women and girls by 2020. That’s right—girls. Adolescent girls and young women represent 26 million, or 20 percent, of that total, and that’s a major breakthrough.

Adolescent girls and young women in developing countries haven’t always been included when it comes to meeting family planning needs. Why? Because they become entangled in religious, political and cultural arguments, many of which are myths, yet still widely believed. Here are some of the worst…

MYTH: The world knows a lot about the situation of adolescent girls under the age of 15 when it comes to early sexual activity and early childbearing.

TRUTH: Publicly available information on the situation of very young adolescent girls ages 10-14 years is limited. Yet we know from secondary analysis that in 14 sub-Saharan African countries, 15 percent or more of girls reported having sex before their 15th birthday. And that’s just those who reported—the number is likely to be higher. A substantial proportion of sexual encounters involving very young adolescents are forced or coerced.

Want more details? Investing when it counts

MYTH: Adolescent girls understand their body, menstrual cycle, conception and contraception.

TRUTH: Cultural barriers make correct information about puberty and reproductive health and contraceptives inaccessible. Girls often feel shame and humiliation about their menstrual cycle, so even when they do know where or whom to ask questions, they don’t. This also affects their contraceptive use and ability to plan pregnancy. Because adolescent girls don’t understand their body well, they also don’t understand how they become pregnant or how to prevent pregnancy.

Want more details? Charting the future; Girls decide: choices on sex and pregnancy

MYTH: Adolescent girls who have correct information about and access to family planning (contraception) begin having sex earlier, and have more partners.

TRUTH: Girls who have access to information and contraception have a later age at sexual debut, are less likely to experience coerced sex (if they have built social assets), and are more likely to use contraception when they do have sex.

Want more details? Start with a girl: a new agenda for global health

MYTH (that we often hear from girls): Contraception makes girls infertile, gain weight, grow facial hair and/or get cancer.

TRUTH: Most contraception has no effect on girls’ fertility; some medically intensive methods (such as IUD, implants, etc.) need to be properly administered by a trained medical provider to be safe for girls and women.

Want more details? World Contraception Day: myths, rumours and rubbish

MYTH: All modern contraceptive methods work for adolescent girls.

TRUTH: Permanent sterilization is not an option. And girls want contraceptive methods that they can control, that they can keep very private and that are longer acting —but not permanent. Sex for girls is often out of their control, and when they can’t negotiate condom use to protect them from disease, they at least want to be protected from unwanted pregnancy. Girls don’t want to be seen acquiring or using contraceptives because, whether married or not, using contraceptives goes against cultural norms (girls shouldn’t have sex out of wedlock and should want babies once they are married). Girls often don’t have the means to regularly acquire contraceptives.

Want more details? Start with a girl: a new agenda for global health

MYTH: Girls who do access contraceptives are adequately informed about how to use them.

TRUTH: Girls often have misinformation or misunderstanding about how to properly use contraceptive methods, with the pill being among the most misunderstood.

Want more details? Facts on the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent women in the developing world

Commit your resources to girls and young women, the untapped accelerators of economic development, and by 2020 you will have unleashed the girl effect through access to contraceptives and family planning.


This is the sixth post in our series, “Adolescent Girls, Microbicides, and HIV Prevention Trials.” This post was written by Anna Kaale, Doreen Bangapi, and Mildred Mwanjesa, who are with Muhimbili University of Health & Allied Sciences (MUHAS) and who work with FHI 360 on the study.

As part of a study entitled “Adolescent Women and Microbicide Trials: Assessing the Opportunities and Challenges of Participation” (see blog #1), researchers sought to determine  how adolescent participants would feel about, and whether they would use, a potential study microbicide product.  

A total of 135 females ages 15-21 were participating in a mock clinical trial (MCT). Participants made four visits over six months: baseline, month two, month four and month six.  MCT participants who made the month four visit were asked if they would be willing to participate in a smaller sub-study.  Fifty-seven of the 71 eligible participants at this visit agreed, and they were asked to use a vaginal gel (over-the-counter lubricant) or take a pill (vitamin) for two months.Participants were told that they were being asked to use lubricants or vitamins, and that these were not microbicide products.Those who declined (14) completed a decliner questionnaire. Their reasons for declining included not willing to be randomized to pill or gel, being afraid of being seen by other people like parents when taking pills, being afraid of using the product because it is a new experience, fear of side effects, general dislike of taking pills and not wanting to insert any product in their vagina.

Participants were randomly assigned to the vitamin pill group (44%) or the vaginal gel group (56%).

Most participants liked the product they were given—both the pill and the vaginal gel.  Reasons for liking the products included that they could use them without partner knowledge, they were easy to use, and the products did not interrupt sex.  Few participants disliked the products; however, some reasons included appearance and/or smell and need to remember to use the product.

Researchers were surprised that most participants said they hoped to be randomized to the gel instead of the pill.  Some participants who were randomized to the pill asked the nurse counselors if they could be switched to the gel and others wished to get the same product that their friends received. Some participants came to the study clinic to ask for more product after the sub-study had ended.  For example, some asked for more gel, saying that it made sex more pleasurable; others asked for pills and said  that the pills gave them more appetite and a “good feeling.” The nurses observed more participants coming in for additional gel than pills during the sub-study, and unused vitamin pills were more likely to be returned to the clinic at the end of the sub-study than unused gel. The study staff also learned that some participants were sharing the gel/pills with family members.  Overall, the sub-study provided valuable information about how adolescents might feel about using a microbicide product.

Kara Perez has a degree in English from Wesleyan University and has been working for Smart Girls since September.

I don’t know about you, but I have some of my best ideas at the most unusual times- at the grocery store, taking a shower or just falling asleep. The idea for Smart Girls at the Party was conceived by Meredith Walker and Amy Poehler over a late night bottle of wine. Realizing the enormous pressures on girls and how difficult the process of growing up can be, Amy and Meredith wanted to start something where girls can go have authentic experiences as themselves and be celebrated for it. Smart Girls at the Party is a website and youtube series that serves to highlight the talents, smarts and ambition of girls around the world. Our tagline is ‘Change the world by being yourself, something we all believe in. We strive to show girls that who they are right now is enough.

We want to celebrate interests and passions that girls have and we want them to share themselves with the world. Smart Girls at the Party uses several different shows (Operation Nice, Girls of the World, Ask Amy, Meow Meow Music and Smart Girls at the Party) as a voice for girls everywhere. Our website,, is also a place where girls can find other amazing women and girls, like our Smart Girl of the Week. Visitors can learn how to make fun DIY projects or submit their own content. As a team, we work every day to showcase the amazing Smart Girls who have gone before us and the ones that are growing up now.

The show Amy hosts, ‘Smart Girls at the Party,’ is a show where she interviews a girl about an interest or hobby she has. We’ve done things like drag racing and glassblowing. We want to make it very clear that you are already standing out just by being who you are. Nothing else required. ‘Girls of the World’ invites girls from anywhere on the planet to show us around their hometown and introduce us to their culture and way of living. We’ve done places like New Zealand and Mali.

Smart Girls at the Party is more than a website or a youtube channel. It’s a way of viewing and valuing yourself and the world. Everyone can be a Smart Girl.


Valerie Mahar provides program support to the Gender Roles, Equality and Transformations (GREAT) Project at Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health Washington, D.C. headquarters office. The GREAT Project is made possible through support provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of the Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-10-00073.

GREAT Logo; partners IRH, Pathfinder, Save the Children

GREAT Logo; partners IRH, Pathfinder, Save the Children

Many of you reading this are likely familiar with the long history of civil conflict that plagued northern Uganda for more than 20 years.  This conflict led to massive disruption of health services, internal displacement of people, the erosion of traditional social and family structures, and a generation of young people who have grown up surrounded by violence. Because of the heavy toll the conflict has taken on northern Uganda, these youth are particularly vulnerable to poor reproductive health outcomes (e.g., unintended pregnancy, HIV infection) and gender-based violence.

Born from an understanding that gender norms significantly influence the reproductive health of boys and girls, partners Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University, Pathfinder International, and Save the Children began collaborating in 2010 on the Gender Roles, Equality and Transformations (GREAT) Project with the hope of promoting gender-equitable norms to provide the youth of northern Uganda with a strong foundation for building healthy lives. 

Local Ownership: Involving Everyone

Photo Credit: Chad Stevens, Save the Children

Working with youth to lay this foundation can be challenging, but in the two years since the project began, the GREAT team made extensive strides in engaging stakeholders and local communities, especially through the formation of a technical advisory group (TAG) and a participatory project design process.  The project design was informed by a workshop with the TAG, consisting of representatives from district local governments, NGOs, cultural institutions, police and officials from the ministries of Health, Gender and Education. Also at the heart of the GREAT team’s efforts is a comprehensive community mobilization strategy known as the Community Action Cycle (CAC), designed to reinforce intervention activities by building the capacity of community, religious, and clan leaders to be agents of change in their communities.  The Project will recognize and celebrate community champions who demonstrate commitment to gender-equitable behaviors and plans to work with village health teams who support the expansion of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services through a comprehensive Service Linkages Strategy.

Grounding Community Transformation in Evidence

The GREAT team used ethnographic research findings to design activities that resonate positively with these communities in northern Uganda. Centered on a radio drama (which was identified in our program review as a powerful means to catalyze discussion and promote wide-scale behavior change), a series of cohesive and scalable products were designed with overarching themes, using the same characters to create a unifying thread for all products. This enables groups to discuss the common plot, extrapolate the themes to their life experiences, and move into action.

After participating in activities developed by the GREAT Project, one boy concluded:

“We are all children of the family. I want my sister and I both to be healthy and have bright futures.”

Other young boys ages 10-19 responded in a similar way, committing to help their sisters with household chores in an effort to protect them and give them equal time for schoolwork.

Photo Credit: Lisa Sherburn

While still in its early stages, initial findings from the GREAT Project have given the team hope that large scale transformative change in gender norms and adolescent sexual and reproductive heath outcomes is attainable. 

For more information about the early 2013 rollout of scalable products in northern Uganda or the intervention design, check out our Phase I project brief and our recently published ethnographic research findings.

Stay tuned for future updates on GREAT!

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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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