In 2007, while volunteering for the education-based NGO World Assistance Cambodia, I traveled to Phnom Penh to mark the opening of a new school. The folks who attended were patiently waiting for the city leaders to cut the ribbon to celebrate the opening of this school—the first school they would have since the Khmer Rouge destroyed them all nearly 40 years earlier. It was on this day while overlooking a throng of Cambodians in attendance, I spied a little girl.
The girl I saw had a bright, beautiful face and big expressive eyes. She was standing outside the school gates, clinging to the fence with her fingers laced through the wires and peering in longingly. I knew that this young girl, who I later learned is named Srelin, was not being brought into the school to be enrolled, and I wondered if she ever would be. It was a moment of reflection as I realized that the world would never see the boundless potential she possessed if she was barred from education. I knew in that moment that providing girls like Srelin the tools for self-empowerment was the way that her community, indeed our world, could change for the better.
Educating and empowering girls is the single best action we can take to bring about a just, equitable, and flourishing world for all. But in order to get to this state, we must first listen to girls and amplify their voices.
Fast forward to 2012, I founded Global G.L.O.W. with a mission to ignite the power of girls for global transformation. Global G.L.O.W. is now an international nonprofit organization that creates and operates innovative out-of-school programs to mentor girls ages 10–18 to advocate for themselves and make their communities stronger. Working with community partners on the ground and almost 8,000 girls annually in 23 countries, including the U.S., Global G.L.O.W. works to accelerate girls' greatness today so they can build a better tomorrow.
When girls are strong, healthy, and educated, communities flourish, and everyone benefits. On the economic front alone, the World Economic Forum reports that closing the worldwide gender gap in the workforce fully could add $28 trillion to global GDP. On the educational side, every additional year of school a girl attends increases her wages by an average of 12%, according to the Malala Fund.
The evidence is overwhelming—when girls thrive, they start an upward spiral that changes societal perceptions and norms and breaks the shackles of poverty. This evidence fuels one of the central messages of our programming at Global G.L.O.W.—girls know what girls need. Our model is girl-led and listening-led—we listen to girls to understand both their challenges and their proposed solutions. We work collaboratively with girls, partners, and communities to develop unique mentor-based programs to address the most critical barriers affecting girls across the impact areas of self-advocacy, wellbeing, educational engagement, economic opportunity, and community impact.
The evidence is overwhelming—when girls thrive, they start an upward spiral that changes societal perceptions and norms and breaks the shackles of poverty.
This year, after hearing from the girls in our programs about the deep need and desire to take control of their own health—specifically around sexual and reproductive health and hygiene—Global G.L.O.W. created and began piloting our newest international program, Healthy G.L.O.W. Healthy G.L.O.W. is a 13-week health and reproductive health education program, providing girls with a safe space to explore, discuss, and learn about their physical, mental, and social well-being needs through knowledgeable and trusted mentors.
We've now expanded Healthy G.L.O.W. to include sessions devoted to issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, our aim is to give girls this critical health information so they are best armed to advocate for themselves, remain in school, and make positive, informed choices throughout their lives. After successfully piloting the program for 650 girls alongside our partner organizations in 9 countries including Ghana, Haiti, Cambodia, Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria, Thailand, and the U.S., Healthy GLOW will be expanded in 2021 to all of our partners worldwide.
Educating and empowering girls is the single best action we can take to bring about a just, equitable, and flourishing world for all. But in order to get to this state, we must first listen to girls and amplify their voices. Understanding the barriers that girls face—from their own perspectives—is vital for changing social norms. Only with this critical awareness can solutions be envisioned and actions taken to eliminate the barriers to girls' empowerment.
When girls are strong, healthy, and educated, communities flourish, and everyone benefits.
We must also speak up about gender inequities. Do not be hampered by the old social taboos that keep girls and women silent and suffering and avoid discussing issues like sexual health and menstrual hygiene. Let us be bold—learn and speak about the universal experiences of girls.
Finally, we must support girl-focused organizations. Investing in girls is the best investment we can make to strengthen our communities. The ultimate impact of the collective force of girls is the creation of a world in which everyone can reach their full potential.
WRITTEN BYKylie Schuyler, Phd