Celebrating Generation GLOW: International Day of the Girl Event

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
October 9, 2015

This is the board of directors of an important company here in the United States. As members of the board, everyone in this picture is in charge of making big decisions about the actions of the company.

This is a picture of peace negotiators in a country that has had terrible fighting going on.

This is a meeting of world leaders trying to figure out how best to deal with terrorists.

And this is a photo of a typical Sunday morning news show – where government officials and others get their news.

Does anyone notice anything about these photos? There are virtually no women. In each of these photos, important people are influencing or making decisions that will affect a lot of people.

These photos represent what I see in too many places around the world, including the United States. In almost every country, men vastly outnumber women in almost every place where big decisions are made. You may say, so what is the consequence of that? It is really quite simple – the experiences and views of half the population are not given a voice.

The United States wants to see more women leaders here at home and around the world. We want women’s voices to matter and to be heard. The question is, what do we do about it?

We believe that we need to address this issue when girls are your age. That’s because, in many places around the world, boys and girls have similar lives until they reach adolescence. It’s then when you transition from being a child to an adult -- typically between the ages of 10 and 19.

And for girls, this is a time where one of two things can happen .If she’s lucky – a girl can go to school, get a good education, and graduate ready to get a job and contribute to her community. Or, in too many places, girls will start facing challenges that make life very difficult. Instead of going to school, she might have to go to work. Or stay at home and do chores. Or even get married.

This is Ghulam Haider. Ghulam wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. Instead, at the age of 11, she married the 40-year-old man we see sitting next to her. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. Around the world, too many girls end up in marriages instead of classrooms. And the doors that might be open to them if they’re educated and empowered start to close.

But I’ve met many girls who face these challenges, and they aren’t victims. They don’t want us to feel sorry for them. They want us to partner with them to change the way the world views girls, to show everyone that girls have just as much value and potential as boys do.

One of those girls is named Jimena. Jimena’s parents were just a little older than you when she was born in Guatemala. And in her community, girls have very few options and they often get married and have children when they’re your age. But Jimena didn’t want to get married. She wanted to go to school. She wanted other girls to be able to go to school. And so when she was eight years old, she volunteered for her local youth group and started to teach other girls about their rights and opportunities.

So if you remember one thing about today, I hope you remember that you can be any age – 12 years old like Jimena, or a bit older like me—and you can help empower girls around the world.

How can you do that? You can reach out to girls around the world. Learn more about what life is like for girls in different countries. Start using social media to bring attention to the issues that girls around the world face. Or you can show the world that girls can do anything. You can become an engineer or a scientist. You can run a company, be President of the United States, or cure cancer.

Because that’s what it will take to change these photos. It will take you, and millions of girls just like you, to come together and say “let girls learn,” to say, our voices matter.

So let’s get to work. Thank you.