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The Movement of the Adolescent Girl

The Movement of the Adolescent Girl

A truly powerful social movement will take the most vulnerable people in society and transform them into a force so powerful they can no longer be ignored. It is this type of movement than turned a boy from rural South Africa, in a country that barely afforded him any rights, into a President and the most respected political leaders of our time. Right now, we are watching one of the most stigmatized, abused and vulnerable groups in our world rising up and being heard. It is the long overdue movement of the adolescent girl.

In the developing world, the leading cause of death of a girl between the age of 15 and 19 is childbirth or pregnancy. A girl will be three times more likely to suffer from malnutrition than her brothers, as she may be the last in her family to be allowed to eat. Only 43% of secondary school aged girls in the developing world are in class. Adolescence presents new challenges to girls, as they are more likely to be forced into marriage and less likely to be attending school than in their younger years. However, it is also the age where they can begin to speak out and defend their own rights.   

Girls are not merely the victims of global persecution; they are a gigantic lost opportunity. The World Bank estimates that for every 1% increase in girls finishing their secondary education a country’s annual per capita growth rate rises by 0.3 percentage points. Imagine what that can mean for global poverty, if the 57% of girls currently denied an education were able to complete secondary school. This is merely one of the thousands of facts that demonstrate how powerful adolescent girls really are. If you would like more, I will refer you to the Internet, it rocks at this stuff.

In 2012, the world prayed and hoped with the family of the young Malala Yousafzai as she fought for her life after being shot for standing up for a girl’s right to be educated. This brave young girl put the plight of adolescent girls into the spotlight. The power of her story lies not only in her own courage and persistence, but also in the way it has achieved international attention for the plight of millions of girls across the world. Everyday these girls take risks to fight for their basic rights. Malala’s story is not just one of an individual- it is a representation of a movement that has for a long time been waiting to be heard.  

Late last year, I had the privilege of conducting an evaluation of the Girls’ Education Initiative, a project funded by Oaktree and implemented by our amazing partner KAPE in Cambodia. Over the course of two days, I met some genuinely inspiring young girls. We spoke to a girl who so badly wanted to get an education that she risked abuse and violence from her family for insisting on going to school. She is now training to be a teacher, and wants to spread her love of education to her students. Another young girl we met has been an orphan since she was a baby. We saw her running a small stall in her school, saving money to support her studies. We met girls who cried when they had to miss school because they were sick, girls who would speak passionately and confidently about their role in a community that has for generations silenced them. This was two days, in two schools in rural Cambodia, and these girls are just a few of so many.

Through campaigns like the Half the Sky Movement and the Girl Effect we are seeing growing international attention being placed on the plight and opportunities of adolescent girls. We are seeing young girls from varying countries and backgrounds confidently speaking out about their challenges and dreams for the future. It is now time to play our part. In Australia, we have the opportunity to object to gender inequality when we see it without risking serious reprisal. Further, we have the resources to spread the message of young girls all over the world who are trying to do the same thing. Malala is a household name; it is time to make the message of her and her peers be heard in every corner of the globe.

The time of the adolescent girl is now.

Sara Gringold is Oaktree's Cambodia Partnership Manager