y work to build Girl Rising began in 2009, when I learned a simple truth: educating adolescent girls can transform societies. I was far from the first to discover this. Over 30 years of statistical and academic research had uncovered the fact that when you enable girls to stay in school through adolescence, every indicator of poverty improves across developing countries.

Educating adolescent girls can transform societies. Tweet This Quote

Investing in girls makes all countries healthier, wealthier, safer and more prosperous. Yet every day, girls face barriers to full participation in society that boys do not. Last year, UNESCO reported that over 130 million girls don’t attend school. These girls grow up to become women who are marginalized, often poor, and whose human potential remains unrealized. This incontrovertible truth – that girls education is a powerful recipe for global development – requires a sense of urgency.

I felt compelled to build Girl Rising not because I’m a woman, nor because my parents invested in my education – both true – but because I felt a professional urgency: I had stumbled across the story of a lifetime, and here’s the headline: Educating Girls Can Change the World.

What We Stand to Lose Without Equality

As I journalist, I have seen first hand the power of storytelling – to shift an election, to start a war, to unlock empathy and to change the course of history. At Girl Rising, our mission is to harness the power of storytelling to change the way the world values girls, to make girls’ education part of the mainstream conversation, and to inspire action.

The movement to invest in girls and women as a pathway to prosperity has gained massive momentum over the past several years, and it shows. The United Nations dedicated one of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals to gender equality. Goal #5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.

Equality matters because in order to solve our major challenges and make progress as a global society, we need talent to rise to the top – regardless of gender, language, skin color, economic class and more. If we want the best, we better look at both girls and boys, from village council to corporate board.

The truth is that both boys and girls face structural barriers to education all around the world. Boys and girls suffer equally when there aren’t enough schools, when teachers don’t show up, or when the education they receive in school is sub-par. For girls, though, there is a double deficit. In addition to structural barriers, girls face social barriers that are most often borne out of discriminatory traditions and practices. Once a girl reaches adolescence the social barriers are at their height: just 39 percent of girls living in rural areas attend secondary school. This is an equality question, which is the focus of SDG #5.

Empowerment is complex. In fact, the Gates Foundation in partnership with KIT spent nearly two years defining it. Essentially, empowerment creates the enabling environment for any individual to participate fully in society. As the Gates model shows, without certain social attitudes, laws, practices, and access to capital in place, it’s hard for people – especially women and girls – to play an additive role in their homes, communities and nations.

Some of the boldest, most visionary men I know fight for gender equality because they know it will improve the world for all people. Tweet This Quote

In order to reap the fullest benefit from every human being’s potential, we must invest in every human being equally.

How are girls and women held back in ways that boys and men are not? Girl Rising provides a catalytic tool for communities to begin to address this question. If we can answer it, economic prosperity, better health, and more peaceful societies will follow, community by community. The implications are real; they’re measured in prosperity and health, or in poverty and death.

What will we choose?

Debunking This Gender Misconception

What often gets in the way of supporting gender equality is this common misconception: equality for women and girls is a zero sum game.

Somehow, many people believe men and boys lose when women and girls participate. What we know is that everyone wins. Families get healthier, incomes rise, and GDP and productivity grow. Nations have more money to invest in all of their people.

Some of the boldest, most visionary men I know fight for gender equality because they know it will actually improve the world for all people. And that’s a good thing, because in order to achieve SDG #5, we’re going to need both men and women at the table.

Equality by 2030: Do We Stand a Chance?

In today’s world, global communications and human networks have made transformative social change more possible than ever. In the spring of 2017, the Women’s March and the March for Science were global exercises of the people’s voice. Grassroots global action provides an exciting pathway for change.

Also, we see a lot happening in governments across the world that are making women and girls a priority. In the past decade, the U.S. in particular has made a strategic investment in gender equity. For example, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton led the charge to put together a framework for all U.S. government employees around the world, requiring them to look at every development project with a gender lens. The prime ministers of both India and Japan are also providing visible leadership around gender equality.

For progress to continue, we need a tidal wave of support. More leaders, whether at the home, community, corporate or government level, need to step forward and lead in a way that promotes equality. The UN’s Global Goals movement is part of this wave, and more people need to know about it.

History bends towards justice, but I believe the story of why this goal matters needs to be told again and again. That way, individuals across society can choose to work toward gender equality, and all of the other goals, in their daily lives. New social norms get written at the local level.

Holly Gordon

Author Holly Gordon

Holly Gordon is co-founder/CEO of Girl Rising, a global campaign for girls’ education, and an Executive Producer of the Girl Rising film. Holly was selected for Fast Company’s League of 60 Extraordinary Women and by Newsweek/Daily Beast as one of 125 Women of Impact. Forbes Magazine named Girl Rising #1 Most Dynamic Social Initiative of 2012. Before Girl Rising, Holly was Director of Content at the Tribeca Film Festival and a producer at ABC News. Holly graduated from Brown University.

More by Holly Gordon