Girls helping girls

International Day of the Girl is an occasion for education, celebration and advocacy

October 11, 2012|By Ellie Dominguez and Madison Farley

Thursday marks the International Day of the Girl. As part of Garrison Forest School's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) partnership with the Johns Hopkins University, we spent this past spring and summer as the first interns at Jhpiego, the JHU-affiliated nonprofit addressing health issues of girls, women and their families worldwide.

We talked via email and Skype with girls around the globe and discovered just how similar our perspectives are. The GirlSpot posts we wrote for the Jhpiego Facebook page detail these common bonds — and highlight the differences in our lives, differences that often have tragic consequences for our global peers.

We've learned through our work with Jhpiego's health care workers that somewhere in the world, a woman dies in childbirth every 90 seconds. If you are younger than 19, you are twice as likely to die in childbirth. It's not uncommon for girls in developing countries to experience early (and often forced) marriage, and to give birth at ages as young as 12 or 13. In Afghanistan, by age 16, the average girl is a wife and mother. Due to a lack of access to proper health services, she may have experienced complications from childbirth.

Girls in some African nations may have more individual freedom compared to their Afghan peers, but they still face similar obligations and obstacles. In Ethiopia, girls as young as 13 are married and having children. Pregnancy and childbirth at such a young age affect girls' health and can result in the deaths of the mom, the baby and sometimes both. Jhpiego, which is headquartered here in Baltimore, provides proper maternal care and resources to developing countries like Ethiopia and Afghanistan and in more than 50 countries across the globe.

International Day of the Girl is a day for education and celebration. One cause for cheering — and continued advocacy — is the 3,100 Afghan women who, despite being young mothers with many obligations, have attended and graduated from midwifery school in recent years. Their sought-after skills bring them respect and value within a gender-restricting culture and offer the midwives financial assistance and medical knowledge for their families. But most important, their commitment and work has led to more mothers surviving childbirth, and Afghanistan no longer has the highest rate worldwide of maternal deaths. There are many more accomplishments in women's maternal health and healthier lives for their families at

We may not be health care workers, but as girls in much different situations in Baltimore, we can help save the lives of girls who aren't so different from us in hopes and dreams for the future. The first step is learning about the issues. By sharing the realities for girls around the world via social media, with the Garrison Forest community and the broader world, we try to arrive at solutions. Last spring, we inaugurated a new Garrison Forest co-curricular club, Garrison for Girls, and many students are joining our advocacy efforts.

The Garrison Forest School community has embraced our efforts. People are constantly asking us questions about our involvement and are always curious to learn more. We have found that girls want to help other girls, no matter where they are around the globe. We all care for one another because we all can relate.

The life of every girl is invaluable, here and abroad. But we are often reminded that in many places around the globe, girls are in danger. The world was shocked this week by the shooting on a school bus of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who dared to speak out in favor of rights for girls and children. Her assailants hoped to slow the march of progress for girls and women, but they will not succeed.

Our generation is already being called upon to be part of a global community. As girls, we're starting by focusing on girls: to safeguard their health, give them the means to stay well, educate and empower them, and give them a voice. It will take much more than one day of recognition for every girl, boy, woman and man in Baltimore and beyond to stare down global challenges and problem-solve for a better future, but awareness on International Day of the Girl is a great place to start.

Ellie Dominguez ( and Madison Farley ( are members of the Garrison Forest School Class of 2013. Their GirlSpot posts are available on the Jhpiego Facebook page.

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