Girls in the United States are more educated, socially connected and empowered than ever, but that is not the case for many of their counterparts in developing countries who still struggle to attend school, see a doctor or to cultivate meaningful roles in their communities.
However, a campaign for girls, by girls, is out to change that. Betsy Cribb was one of more than 300 girls who came to New York City to kick off the Girl Up Campaign.
"It's a for girls by girls campaign," she says. "It uses American girls' resources and energy to raise awareness for girls in the developing countries and really give them a voice because they don't have the opportunity to speak for themselves."
The campaign is sponsored by the United Nations Foundation, a charity that supports U.N. causes. Its spokeswoman, Elizabeth Gore, says Girl Up is off to an exciting start.
"I would describe it as walking into a room with the most passionate young girls from all economic backgrounds, all ethnic backgrounds, working together and really learning about girls globally, from Malawi to Ethiopia to Guatemala to Liberia," says Gore. "Not only did they really want to understand the statistics - like one in four girls unfortunately experience violence before they are 18 or one in seven girls are married in developing countries before the age of 15, and they were just so blown away by that - but they really wanted to know stories about these girls. They wanted to understand, are they like them? Do they like boys? Are they going to school?"
Spreading the word
Now, back at home, the girls who attended the kick off are spreading the word about the campaign. Cribb - a senior at a girls school in Charleston, South Carolina, is writing a blog and making presentations.
"What I plan to do is take the Girl Up Campaign to schools around Charleston and raise awareness and raise funds," Cribb says. "I'm actually speaking to my church youth group about the Girl Up campaign this Sunday. Then, I'm going to my former middle school to talk to them in a few weeks."
Girl Up also has global advocates like Queen Rania of Jordan and MTV executive Judy McGrath, along with celebrity supporters including fashion photographer Nigel Barker, teen actress Victoria Justice and singer-songwriter Crystal Bowersox.
"We want to lift the young women up and give them the resources they need to live productive, good lives," Bowersox says.
As she travels around the country with the campaign, Bowersox talks about giving girls in developing countries a High Five. She's not talking about the hand-to-hand slap of greeting.
"What that is is to take five minutes to learn about the issues that are impacting these young women in these nations that we are focusing on," she explains. "Once you learn about these things and what these girls go through every day, you can share what you've learned with five friends. When those five friends tell five friends, the numbers can grow exponentially. Then if every one those people that you tell donates $5, it can provide school supplies for more than 100 girls in countries like Malawi. It can help provide for building supplies, to transform a one-room health clinic to a fully operating health center. Or it can put up a billboard in Malawi that will ask for the end of childhood marriage."
While the campaign is designed to benefit girls in developing countries, UNF's Elizabeth Gore says, it also helps American girls explore their potential and become leaders.
"I truly believe you don't have to be a head of state or a diplomat to be a global leader," she says. "Frankly, you can be a global leader at 13 years old. We have an advisory board of teen girls. There are 18 of them from all over the country. They are truly telling us how to run this campaign. And I believe because of them, we will succeed."
Gore says the Girl Up campaign is a chance for American girls to step up, save lives and bring about global change