The Girl Effect has made itself a new home in St Andrews. A global charity organization, The Girl Effect aims to harness the potential of adolescent girls in order to end poverty for them and their communities. Although the society is new to the Bubble, it has been an internationally established entity since its formation by the Nike Foundation in 2008. Today, it is backed by the United Nations and the UK Department for International Development.
The mission statement of the charity is simple and elegant. It consists of three main points:
- Girls are the agents of change. It is statistically proven that if a country keeps girls in school full time (i.e. an equal amount of time as the boys are in school), then that country’s GDP will improve. Investing in education also lowers the risk of teen pregnancy and slows the spread of diseases such as HIV, both of which helps to break the cycle of poverty.
- People assume that existing programmes are reaching girls in need, but they, in fact, are not. Most programmes affect children, adolescent males and adult females but seem to miss adolescent females.
- The cost of excluding girls is high. Billion of dollars in potential national income are lost when girls leave school early, become child brides or have children as teenagers.
The overarching mission of The Girl Effect is to create better educational opportunities for young women and to make sure that their voices are heard. So far, The Girl Effect consists of several large portals, called Girl Hubs, in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Nigeria, where the unique problems facing adolescent girls in each of these areas are addressed. Rather than using the West as a reference for what aid to provide, The Girl Effect looks to the women in each country to tell them what they need. The hub in Rwanda, for example, launched Ni Nyampinga, a Kinyardwanda phrase meaning ‘the beautiful girl (inside and out) who makes good decisions.’ Through its magazines and radio shows, Ni Nyampinga provides a forum for aspiring young female writers, for discussion about issues such as child marriage and teen pregnancy and for inspiring female role models from around the country to share their stories. The Girl Effect runs a similar radio show in Ethiopia, called Yegna. And in Nigeria, it operates and funds a Safe Spaces Programme, which provides an opportunity for small groups for girls to discuss health, literacy and leadership.
One of The Girl Effect’s biggest focuses this year is the coming evaluation of the Millennium Development Goals. Established by the United Nations in 2000 with a deadline of 2015, the Millennium Development Goals focused attention on eight different global issues, including hunger, poverty, universal primary education and child mortality. The goals, however, failed to address young women specifically. In response to this, The Girl Effect (along with a host of other organisations) has developed the Girl Declaration. This five-point plan specifically addresses problems facing impoverished girls around the world: education, health, safety, economic security and voice and rights. Through their website, anyone can become a supporter of The Girl Declaration. Spreading awareness of the declaration will no doubt be one of the first missions of The Girl Effect here in St Andrews.
When asked why she decided to found The Girl Effect Society in St Andrews, second year Katy Brooks said: “Since this past summer I’ve really wanted to get something together that supported girls’ education. I then did a lot of research and figured out that there were all sorts of different groups out there that shared the same values that I have. I eventually came across The Girl Effect and became incredibly passionate about the projects they were working on and their mission to improve the quality of women’s lives around the world.” She later added: “I think because a lot of us are sitting here comfortably at our Western university, getting involved in organisations which operate overseas can sometimes feel a bit removed. The Girl Effect is not just a hand out, giving someone a wad of cash to solve problems. Working with The Girl Effect is a very tangible way of taking action and solving socioeconomic problems with real and long term solutions.”
The name The Girl Effect and the organisation’s aims to help girls does not mean that men are excluded from participation. In fact, they are encouraged to do so, and many male members of the UN have already backed the organisation personally. Katy stressed that: “It’s important to me that The Girl Effect isn’t perceived as a gender exclusive movement. It is not a sexist campaign that only values women. We only aim to look objectively and strategically at the world. When we do, we see the unharnessed potential in girls. The Girl Effect is all about unlocking that potential.”
Katy has an ambitious vision for this year. Although the first meeting was held last week, the society continues to welcome even more new members. There are still positions on the committee to be filled for anyone interested in joining up. Events will start off small (bake sales and the like) but will eventually grow larger as the society gains steady membership and momentum. For more information, and to follow their inevitable rise, like society’s Facebook page. As their site boldly states: The question isn’t why girls. The question is why wait.