Girl Up

Girl Up
Remarks by Guest Preacher, Anna McGuire
Westmoreland United Church of Christ
October 5, 2014

Good morning.

I am happy to join you this morning at to talk to you about THE most important person in the entire world - a 12 year old girl.

Now as a big sister, I can also tell you that a 12 year old girl can also be one of the most annoying people in the world.  

But, seriously, a 12 year old girl IS the most important person in the entire world  - as the education, empowerment and opportunities that are given to her have the ability to change her life, her family, her community and the world. Think back to when you turned 12, you began to develop your own unique personality and opinions.  Each and every 12 year old should have this opportunity.    

I am very honored that Rev. Tutt invited me to speak at Westmoreland this morning on World Communion Day, where we recognize our global connections and unity through the community of Christ.     My remarks today are also timely as October 11th is the International Day of the Girl, where girls around the world will raise their voices demanding education, action and opportunity to reach their full potential.   

As one of my favorite artists, Beyonce sings, “Who runs the world?  Girls!’    But, the truth is that this isn’t correct for most girls.  Unfortunately, girls across the globe face many disadvantages.   

Consider these statistics. 

1 in 9 girls are married before the age of 15.   1 in 3 before 18.   In some parts of the world girls as young as 8 are married to much older men. 

Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19.     

In fact, 90 percent of all teenage pregnancies in the developing world are to married adolescent girls. 

57 million children are not in school – the majority of them are girls.  

Obviously, this is a problem that needs fixing, and fast. These girls need someone to raise their voices and speak up on their behalf. 

And that is why I am involved in a organization called Girl Up, which is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation designed for teenagers in the United States to raise awareness and funds for adolescent girls in the developing world.    I am the President of the Walt Whitman High School Chapter of Girl Up and last year served as one of 20 national Teen Advisors to the Girl Up program.      This year, the Girl Up team asked me to co-chair this group.    

I have always been interested in learning about the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, and in the similarities and differences between my life and the lives of girls in other countries.   In 6th grade, I wanted to find a way that I could try to help people who did not have the same opportunities and privileges that I have.   

Through a family friend, I learned about a small NGO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, SOS Femmes en Danger, which works to protect and support women and girls who have escaped from the violence and deadly conflict in their country.   With my family friend’s encouragement, I started an on-line fundraising campaign and with support from my friends and family raised enough money to purchase a sewing machine for this organization. This enabled a group of women in the DRC to have the means not only to sew clothes for themselves and their children but also to sew items they could sell at the market.     One of the advocacy quilts that is currently being shown at Westmoreland was created by women that benefitted from this NGO, and I am proud that in a very small way I have helped this NGO with its mission. 

I first learned about the Girl Up program in 6th grade when my mom took me to an event run by Girl Up. At that event there were many interactive exhibits that illustrated what it is like for adolescent girls in other parts of the world.    One exhibit had us balancing baskets of produce on our heads as we imagined walking to market to sell our goods; another had us envision having to make the long walk to gather water or wood or, if we were lucky enough a long walk to school.    I was very excited to know about this incredible program, Girl Up, which provided me the opportunity to be able to advocate for girls around the world and involve my friends and classmates too. 

I started a chapter of Girl Up at Pyle Middle School when I was in 7th grade.    I was lucky that a teacher who shared my enthusiasm about advocacy for adolescent girls was willing to be my advisor.     We were able to raise money to buy sewing machines for community-based organizations in Morocco and Bangladesh as well as help support Girl Up’s programs in Ethiopia, Malawi, Guatemala and Liberia. 

When I moved to Whitman High School, I brought the club with me and our chapter has continued to be a great way for my friends and me to learn about the world, find a way to engage and also have some fun.   We currently have almost 50 members of our club.      

The Girl Up program works through the United Nations system, and some of the programs it supports have included scholarships, access to health services, leadership training and microloans.   Our club has raised about $3000 but overall Girl Up clubs have raised more than $2.8 million dollars to impact the lives of more than 20,000 adolescent girls.   That is the result of a lot of bake sales and lemonade stands, and the Whitman club is proud to be a small part of that success and impact.

In addition to raising funds, we are also raising our voices.   Girl Up encourages us to educate decision makers about the importance of girls’ rights.   The Whitman club has met with our Member of Congress, Rep. Van Hollen, lobbied Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois on the issue of child marriage and attended a White House event with the President of France.     I was surprised to learn that the U.S. Government spends only 1 percent of its budget on foreign assistance.   And even more surprised, and dismayed, to learn that less than 2 cents of every development dollar goes to programs for girls.   We need to change this.  

Girl Up has been pretty successful with advocacy.   Girl up supporters helped make ending child marriage around the world an official priority of U.S. foreign policy.   We all sent letters to our members of Congress asking them to take action to protect girls from child marriage.      Girl Up collected more than 16,000 signatures on a petition to end child marriage, which we delivered to the White House.   In 2013, child marriage legislation passed as part of the Violence Against Women Act – this is a huge victory for girls everywhere! 

This year, we are asking our elected officials to make girls a priority again with the “Girls Count” bill.    Many girls around the world are born but do not have a birth certificate or have their births registered.   When they are married, there is no record of their marriage.    They become invisible and thus are not counted and are forgotten.   Many of us Americans do not fully take into account the amazing benefits, opportunities and equality we have within this country – starting even with something as basic as a birth certificate.  I only think it’s fair that each and every person across the globe, regardless of gender, has the same basic rights. 

Last week, the actress Emma Watson spoke at the United Nations General Assembly.  For those of you who don’t know who Emma Watson is, she played the role of Hermione in the Harry Potter movies.    And if you don’t know, Hermione is one of the most amazing 12-year-old girls in literature, and Emma Watson is pretty cool too.     In her UN speech, she argued for feminism. The concept of feminism confuses many people, but it is really arguing for gender equality, and not about girls having more rights than others.  

Emma Watson has received a lot of backlash and even some reports of death threats for stating the simple, what I might say, obvious fact that girls should have the same rights and opportunities as boys.     

There is another famous 12-year-old girl who has made similar statements and also faced backlash and violence for expressing her views.   The girl’s education and empowerment advocate, Malala, was shot in the head, fortunately not fatally, in her native Pakistan by extremists who wanted to quiet her voice.     It has had the opposite effect, as Malala’s voice has been amplified as she calls out for girls’ access to education, opportunity and an equal voice.   

When Rev. Tutt asked me to speak today, I thought that I should tell you my dreams and wishes for the world. In the spirit of Malala, Hermione, and every other 12-year-old girl, my vision is a simple one. 

Imagine if every girl in the world was allowed to go to school.   

Imagine if every girl in the world was allowed to choose her own husband and wait to get married or have children until she was finished with school.     

Imagine if every girl in the world could have the chance to contribute to their community and the world free from gender violence and discrimination. 

Imagine what a world would look like where the most important person in the world would be a 12-year-old girl.  

I think that would be pretty cool. 

In closing, I will leave you with a quote from another famous 12-year-old girl who helped to change the world.   Anne Frank

How wonderful it is that we need not wait one single minute before starting to improve the world.     

So what are we waiting for?   

Time is ticking.    

We need to improve the world for girls! 

Will you join me?

Thank you. 

For more information about Girl Up visit www.girlup.org