OPINION: I was counted, many girls aren’t

March 24, 2014 By Lia Cairone Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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I was incredibly fortunate to be born here in the United States. Growing up here has meant having the opportunity to pursue higher education as well as a chance to pursue my ambitions. It is where I received a birth certificate—something I’ve recently come to appreciate as the first step in so many of these opportunities. Yet far too many girls around the world are not as lucky. In many countries girls are almost invisible—they don’t have birth certificates or access to education, and have little hope for the future.

This March, I want girls around the globe to be counted.

Millions of girls around the world today are being fundamentally overlooked in their communities because they are denied the opportunity to be registered at birth. For many, this is yet another barrier—on top of widespread challenges like child marriage, physical violence, human trafficking and limited educational and economic opportunities—preventing them from reaching their full potential.

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Living in the year 2014 in a forward-thinking place like New York, it seems impossible to imagine not having a birth certificate, or all the things it allows: a drivers’ license; a voice in an election; the simple ability to get on a plane.

Yet that’s what millions of girls and women live with every single day. In many parts of the world, girls are growing up without any opportunity to obtain an education or a job, buy her own land or start her own business. They aren’t able to vote—they are literally invisible members of society.

And considering that approximately one person out of 12 worldwide is a girl or young woman between the ages of 10 and 24, the lack of documentation for one of the fastest-growing segments of the population in developing countries is truly a global issue.

Here’s why: Girls and women’s health and welfare is fundamental to creating and maintaining strong economies and communities. So when a society handicaps girls at birth by failing to acknowledge their very existence, they are holding back entire nations from their potential.

For all these reasons, this is an ideal time to urge our Representatives in Congress—Kirsten Gillibrand, Charles Schumer, and your local Congresspeople–to take action by supporting the Girls Count Act of 2013.

This new legislation aims to tackle the issue head-on. It encourages countries to enact laws that ensure girls and boys of all ages are full participants in society, including promoting birth certifications or some type of national identity card. It also urges the U.S. government to work with partners like the United Nations, which can help countries facilitate data collection and even establish identification laws to ensure girls are active participants in the social, economic, legal, and political sectors of their societies.

We can’t celebrate women without celebrating girls. Let’s make sure they count.

Lia Cairone is a member of the United Nations Association of the USA.

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