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What Girls Want

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to focus attention on the fact that empowering girls is the first step toward empowering women. And empowered women raise healthier families, earn higher wages to invest in their children’s futures, and contribute to faster overall economic growth.

WASHINGTON, DC – Last month, as I watched dozens of students at the Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya learn computer skills, I was impressed by their enthusiasm – especially that of the handful of girls in the room. Despite being in the minority, the girls were not discouraged. They recognized that education was their passport to a future of opportunity.

The sad reality is that the inequality at the Kakuma camp is mirrored in many communities worldwide. As it stands, millions of girls are often forced to forego education for reasons ranging from poverty to household responsibilities to child marriage. They are also subject to violence, deprived of the authority to plan their own families, and denied an equal voice in their homes and communities. But, when given the opportunity to learn and thrive, girls seize it, eager to pursue their dreams and lift up their communities – and that benefits everyone.

UNESCO estimates that that improvements in girls’ education from 1990 to 2009 have saved the lives of 2.1 million children under the age of five. And a World Bank study found that enabling girls to be as economically active as boys would boost annual GDP growth in India by 4.4 percentage points, and by 3.5 percentage points in Nigeria. In short, when girls are educated, safe, healthy, and empowered, they raise healthier and more productive families, earn higher wages to invest in their children’s futures, and contribute to economic growth in their countries.