Celebrating Girl Up

Measured in population or distance, we live in a very big world. And for girls, it can be a dangerous place. Making a difference in our own communities is hard, let alone in a faraway country. Yet there are amazing, confident, and strong-willed individuals out there making great strides towards girl empowerment. Change is happening, and girls are leading the way!

Girl Museum is celebrating the first UN International Day of the Girl Child (October 11) by showcasing a program that focuses the vital importance of girls for the future of the planet—Girl Up. As a UN Foundation campaign, Girl Up aims to “give American girls the opportunity to become global leaders and channel their energy and compassion to raise awareness and funds for United Nations programs that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls.”

We are highlighting four girls participating in Girl Up programs in Ethiopia, Malawi, Liberia and Guatemala, and one of their US teen advisors. Through photographs, we will explore the countries they live in and following themes that are crucial to the Girl Up mission and its wider implications: Altruism, The Power of One, Girls Helping Girls, Leadership, and Girls’ Education.


True selflessness seems to be a rare commodity today.

The ability to devote oneself wholly to the welfare of others is truly a virtue. In a world where it is so easy to get caught up in the mentality of self-promotion and egoism, it is entirely refreshing to see an individual act selflessly and show concern for others.

These qualities are clearly demonstrated by Rocio Ortega, Girl Up Teen Advisor.

“I am first generation Mexican-American, born from two native Mexican parents who did not go to high school or college, but risked their lives so I could have a bright future. I learned that you do not have to be a superhero to save the lives of young girls, just be yourself and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish!

Being a Teen Advisor and getting the opportunity to work with a range of people, from our Girl Up Campaign Advisors to Girl Up Champions like Victoria Justice, or a five-year-old girl who has taken the initiative to raise funds for Girl Up, is just satisfying.

The connections you make and the friendships that develop, all for a brighter future for girls living in developing countries, is phenomenal.  

Personally, female empowerment is not a subject talked about in my family, school, or community. There is a high level of stereotypical masculinity present so when I introduced Girl Up to my high school, I was overwhelmed with the response of many young girls and boys who wanted to speak up for girls living in developing countries.

Garfield High School’s club has been running since I founded it in 2010 and although I have graduated from high school, there is a new class of boys and girls ready to lead the Girl Up club. 

As a young girl, I did know to some extent the hardships that girls face every day in developing countries. The older women in my life such as my mother, sister and aunts were born in rural Mexico where it was disappointing to be a girl.

When I came across a growing non-profit called Global Girl Media, they introduced me to the lives of HIV-positive South African girls who have the same aspirations as me, just not the same rights. Then a book called Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn led me to Girl Up. Now I never take my education, human rights, or health for granted.

The most important life lesson or message to be taken away from Girl Up is that being a young girl is not a crime! It is a gift. I am blessed to have a younger sister who I am now exposing to issues and educating her about these hardships so she can continue the fight for global female empowerment.

Though we have our own hardships, we must come together and realize that while we are strong, together we are stronger.”

Read Rocio’s full interview.

Location: North America
Population: 314 million, including 30 million girls under 15
Capital: Washington, DC
Official Language: English
Gained Independence: from Great Britain, in 1776

Girls in the United States are in a unique position to help their peers across the world. More than three-quarters have volunteered their time and provided items for donation, and 66% have raised money for a cause. Girl Up encourages American girls to use that passion for helping others to spread awareness about the causes of girls around the world and help generate funds for United Nations programs that benefit girls in difficult circumstances.

Girls who want to make a difference can support Girl Up in a variety of ways. By starting a Girl Up club, girls can host events that inform their schools and their communities of the problems girls face and what can to done to help. Girls can also create GirlRaiser fundraising pages to encourage others to donate to Girl Up programs. For more information on what girls can do, visit Girl Up.

Power of One

In a world of many, it only takes one to make a difference.

It only takes one individual to inspire others and mold our future. A single contribution can start a movement with the power to influence and make a change for us all. So why not give our girls a chance to show their power? One girl, one action, one community, one country, one world–the power of one.

This is exactly what Hajira from Malawi has shown us. As the oldest of five, she had to leave school to look after her younger siblings when her parents both died. While she is now a married mother of three at 21, her perseverance, intelligence, and determination showed family, friends, and others just how the power of one can change the world around them.

One day, while walking past the health clinic, Hajira saw a woman laying a tile roof.  She was inspired to see this woman working alongside men and wanted to learn more.  Through a youth club, she found a UN-sponsored program run DAPP, which offered vocational training for those who didn’t complete their elementary education.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Hajira has trained to become a carpenter and will run her own business in a traditionally male-dominated field. She hopes to use her business to ensure that all three of her children finish school.  Her husband is supportive, seeing that her skills will help to provide and create a better life for their family .

As one girl, Hajira transcended adversity in her family, challenged gender norms, succeeded vocationally, and aspires to provide a better future for her children.


Location: Africa
Population: 15 million, including 2.3 million girls under 15
Capital: Lilongwe
Official Language: Chichewa
Gained Independence: from United Kingdom, in 1964

The UN programs working in Malawi that Girl Up helps provide education, health services, leadership roles, and positive messages to the country’s girls. Among many initiatives, Girl Up teaches reading and writing to girls who never completed school; builds medical clinics that cater to girls’ needs; provides information on ending child marriage; and uses mentorship programs to help older girls train their younger counterparts.Girls in Malawi face pretty serious hardships. Almost half are married by age 18, and around a quarter become teenage mothers. Less than one in four girls complete elementary school, and nearly two-thirds are victims of child abuse. Plus, in a country with one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, Malawian girls are four times as likely as boys to be HIV-positive.


As individuals we have the power to inspire others to follow in our footsteps.

We can show others the opportunities available to them in our world. Leadership means to forge a path, and sometimes we are lucky enough to find that path when chasing our own dreams.

Whatever part of the world we live in or background we come from, we each have the strength and determination within us to find our direction and guide others to succeed.

Elvia from Guatemala Girl Up

Elvia from Guatemala.

Elvia Yaqui is a natural leader and through finding her own path has led other girls to find success as well. After having to quit school to help her family farm, she was determined to return and finish. Elvia worked in the fields for five hours a day before going to classes and then returned in the afternoon to continue working.

Highly motivated and generous, Elvia has a high school education and a job with a local non-profit, Abriendo Oportunidades.  She mentors young girls in her community, motivating them to stay in school.  She has also used her skills to persuade the local school to provide a classroom for her to hold her activities.

Her natural ability has guided and inspired others while challenging cultural norms. As a leader, Elvia has taken the initiative to construct a valuable compromise to daily life that not only benefits the community, but also enriches the lives of young girls through education.


Location: Central America
Population: 14 million, including 2.6 million girls under 15
Capital: Guatemala City
Official Language: Spanish
Gained Independence: from Spain, in 1821

Guatemala has a large indigenous population, and many girls of this heritage face unusual odds against them. Just 5% of indigenous girls have an elementary-level education and around one-third are child laborers. Forty percent of these girls are married before the age of 18, and half become teenage mothers.

Girl Up helps Guatemala’s indigenous girls through United Nations programs that provide assistance in overcoming these challenges. This comes in many forms, such as helping girls stay in school; training health care workers in culturally-sensitive practices; setting up programs to prevent gender-based violence; and providing professional development and economic training opportunities.

Girls Helping Girls

An individual who shares in the same life or experience can give the most insight, understanding and empathy to help us find our way. Our fellow girls give us the comforting shoulder, the hand to guide, and the knowledge to reassure. They have the power to aid in the future education, vitality, and success of girls around the world. Sometimes the best support and assistance comes from our peers, our friends, our sisters.

Hamdah, a Somalian refugee living in a UNHCR refugee camp in Ethiopia, has demonstrated the importance and need of girls helping girls. Despite her youth, Hamdah has contributed to providing necessary support and assistance to other girls in her community.

Along with other girls in the camp, she started a club that visits each home in the refugee camp making sure that all school-age girls are able to attend school.   They inform parents on why it is important for girls to have an education, and don’t stop talking until the parents agree to send the girl to school.

While there are many challenges to girls in the refugee camp gaining access to school, such as the cost, household chores or even having to get married, Girl Up is working to change this cycle and create opportunities by supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local partners.

Through a shared experience, Hamdah has shown fellow girls the power to overcome adversity, challenge social norms and seize the opportunities available to them.  She plans to become a doctor.

Location: Africa
Population: 90 million, including 21 million girls under 15
Capital: Addis Ababa
Official Language: Amharic
Established in: 980 BCE

Girls in Ethiopia, including a large number of refugee girls, must deal with the consequences of living in an unstable and very poor country. Many rural girls must spend hours a day collecting drinking water because very few have access to clean water sources. As a result, girls are only about half as likely as boys to be literate. One in five girls is married before the age of 15, and the HIV infection rate of girls ages 15-19 is seven times as high as boys of the same age.

Girl Up supports United Nations programs working to improve these girls’ conditions through a number of different programs. Some of the many things Girl Up is doing include funding school scholarships for girls in refugee camps; providing girls with annual health check-ups; creating girls’ clubs; and training girls to lead study groups among their peers.

Girls’ Education

Education is a vital component in the future of our world.

It can provide the tools and skills needed for every individual success. To continually challenge and develop our mind through learning is to continue to evolve as human beings. Every girl should be afforded the opportunity to acquire knowledge and to grow intellectually no matter what her background or environment.

Girls have the power to make and have made valuable contributions to the world around them that can only be made more significant and lucrative with education.

Massa, age 14Massa from Todee, Liberia, has realized the importance of education for her future and has not let her circumstances keep her from it. While many take for granted the water that runs from the tap, Massa has to collect water several times a day and do many household chores before being able to go to school.   She also walks 45 minutes to get to her schoolhouse, often making her late for cals.  After school, she returns home to fetch water and make dinner.  After her evening chores, she attempts to do her homework — by the light of a single candle.  She perseveres through grueling schedules and shows a dedication to achieving knowledge that is unwavering.

Determined to make a difference in this world, Massa knows that through pursuing her education she will succeed in the goals set out for herself. Her ambition is to attend college so that she can return to her village and work in the local health clinic. Like many educated girls, Massa is highly dedicated to give back to her community.

Location: Africa
Population: 4 million, including 835,000 girls under 15
Capital: Monrovia
Official Language: English
Established in: 1822 by the American Colonization Society, to return free Black Americans to Africa

In Liberia, many girls’ adversities begin while they are still young. The country has the world’s second highest birthrate among 10- to 14-year-olds and a high rate of rape, with girls being the most frequent victims. In addition, more than 40% of girls under the age of 14 have never been to school.

Girl Up supports United Nations programs in Liberia that counter these practices by teaching and empowering girls. This includes providing uniforms and supplies to help girls stay in school; placing peer educators in health clinics; providing counselors to girls who have been victims of violence; and giving girls apprenticeship opportunities.


Girl Up is an inspirational program in so many ways. The generosity and spirit of girls helping other girls is something wonderful to be a part of—and you can participate, too.

If you are a girl living in the USA, there are several ways you can get involved. Join the Girl Up movement, start or join a club, fundraise, advocate, or just spread the word. You can become a Girl Up BFF and even a Teen Advisor like Rocio.

For information about other girl-related UN initiatives, check out the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), which is specifically about girls’ education, and the Working Group for Girls, which looks and many different issues. 

If you are not based in the USA, let us know about the programs and initiatives in your region that are helping and advocating for girls and we will post them.

Education Guide
Download our Girl Up Educational Guide, with discussions and activities that explore the themes of this exhibition further, suitable for ages 12+.

Many dedicated girls worked to produce this exhibition. We would like to acknowledge our Girl Museum team, including Ashley E. Remer, Marisa Lindholm, Miriam Musco, Emma Hatherall, and Briar Barry.

Girl Museum would like to thank Dory Gannes, Senior Campaign Associate for Girl Up, for helping make this exhibition happen.

All of the images used in this show are copyrighted by Girl Up and the United Nations.

Find out what you can do to change the world for girls at Girl Up.

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