Five hours of walking around Capitol Hill and spreading awareness for a new bill in last year’s summer heat just paid off. The Girls Count Act, introduced in the fall of 2013, targets a problem with devastating effects for children in developing countries: not being registered at birth. Registration and identification are essential to receive an education and be eligible to own property. Outlined in the bill are certain provisions that would help girls take hold of these rights, so a United Nations Foundation organization called Girl Up embarked on a mis- sion to get it passed. President Obama signed off on it in the spring of 2015.
Girl Up focuses on fundraising for and supporting adolescent girls to ensure they have access to the same opportunities as their male peers. After advocating for the Girls Count Act in the summer of 2014, I realized that a conversation needed to be started in my community about inequality. My dad was stationed in Doha, Qatar at the time, a small and conservative country in the Middle East. I decided to start the Girl Up Qatar club at my school to engage teenagers in the cause, as girls’ rights and gender equality were topics rarely addressed by students. When the group first started, people affixed the title of “angry feminists” to us in a way meant to be insulting. Despite their intent, I think it is fitting. Yes, we are feminists, and yes, we are angry. Our world often turns a blind eye to gender discrimination and we want that to change.
To my surprise, the club received an outpouring of support from people all around Doha. I was invited to speak at the World Innovation Summit for Education in 2014, which I used as a platform to share the struggles of adolescent girls in front of a diverse audience. I was the youngest speak-
er at the age of 16, and presenting something that could be perceived as controversial. However, the talk led to local media taking an interest in stu- dents bringing a sensitive topic to light. Girl Up Qatar went on to raise money to fund girls’ education in places like Ethiopia and Guatemala, and raise awareness for the Girls Count Act. We also formed important relationships with people like the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, as well as corporations like ExxonMobil. It all began with the simple action of starting a school club.
I believe the feminist movement is most successful when it is inclusive of all girls: gender fluid, transgendered, any religion, any race, any sexuality. You must elevate the status of all these girls, often treated unfairly, to achieve equality. This is the message we need to be sending to those who are hesitant about promoting female empowerment. Organizations like Girl Up work hard, but there are miles to go before the fight is over. Tell your community that 62 million girls are out of school, or that 15 million girls are forced into marriage every year. Then do something about it.