In the United States, we are given a birth certificate and an official identification number when we are born. We become official citizens. When I turned 16 I got a driver’s license. Many of us will travel overseas and need to apply for a passport. As we live our lives, go to school, visit a doctor, or register to vote, we are able to do these things because we have been given a number that recognizes us as a member of society.
But what if you didn’t know when your birthday was? What if your government didn’t know you existed? What if you weren’t counted at all? Counting means a lot of things but mostly “I count” means “I matter.”
How would it feel not to matter in your world, your community, or in your home?
Not being counted is a reality for millions of girls around the world. For indigenous women living in rural parts of Guatemala, being counted does not happen automatically. These girls, and others like them around the world, want their rights to matter and yearn for opportunities for themselves and their families.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of these girls. They have no documentation to prove their birth or claim their citizenship. Yet they fight every day to improve their situations, often fighting for the children they’ve already had at a young age, so they can end the cycle of poverty in their own families. In Guatemala, there are girls who are part of the Parliament for Childhood and Adolescence, participating in decisions that affect their lives and working to ensure that their government counts them. Through a literacy training program run by United Nations and supported by Girl Up, young Guatemalan women are learning to read and write for the first time in their lives.
Last April, I met a woman in this program named Vilma who gave me a picture she had drawn of herself wearing a blindfold. She told me it represented how she felt before she could read, before she learned about her rights, and before she knew that she mattered in her community. She had felt blind before, but now she can see. It was a very powerful moment for me; I saw how one tiny change made a huge impact on her vision for her future.
So what if this was you? Wouldn’t you want someone to help? Wouldn’t you want your government to help you?
If your answer is yes, YOU can make a difference for girls around the world who are just like Vilma. Through Girl Up, you can use your voice to help ensure that girls everywhere are counted. Let your elected officials know about the Girls Count Act of 2013, which would build on the work being done by the U.S. government to prioritize the empowerment of adolescent girls in U.S. foreign policy. You can also give to our project on Catapult, matched dollar for dollar by Johnson & Johnson, which will support programs in Guatemala that help girls go to school, see a doctor, stay safe, and count in their communities.
When a girl is accounted for by her government, there is a greater chance that she will have access to education, health and social services, and later in life be able to vote, work, and own property.
You can get involved to make sure girls everywhere are seen and heard. We can stand with them and make sure they are recognized and their rights are protected. Together we are stronger.
Now, imagine your life. What if no one was counting you? How would that effect just one day of your life, and what challenges would you encounter? Think about it – and then let’s do something about it.
Follow me on Twitter at: @MelissaGirlUp.