Even before reaching their teenage years, girls across the country and around the world are working to empower and assist other women. School Girls Unite is a nonprofit organization that began in 2004, initially comprised of a group of 12-year-old girls based in Washington, D.C. who felt passionate about fighting gender-based discrimination and educating girls around the world. The organization, though rooted in the United States, has since been helping to educate young girls in Mali, and its members range from 12 to 20 years of age. When the founding girls discovered the UNICEF statistic that less than 50 percent of girls in Mali were attending elementary school, they decided to take action by funding and guiding young girls through school in the West African country.
Although education is both compulsory and “free” in Mali, few students enroll or complete their studies due to an inability to pay for uniforms, books, and other fees. The adult literacy rate is a low 33.4 percent, with the female out of male percentage standing at 57 percent within that rate. According to UNESCO’s 2003/4 report Gender inequalities and education in Mali, societal gender relations impact the low enrollment of girls in school just as much as financial reasons, and the gender parity in children enrolled as students only reached as high as 0.7.
School Girls Unite aims not only to support these girls and their education financially, but also to impact them at a personal and social level, so they may have the opportunity to see past community pressures to become child brides or early mothers and pursue their own interests and dreams.
Completely volunteer-run, School Girls Unite’s program provides scholarships to girls in Mali, where a mere $75 can provide a girl with textbooks, supplies, other school costs, and additional tutoring/mentorship. School Girls Unite has already provided 500 years of education, totaling the schooling time of all the students the organization has helped.
The nonprofit has continuously worked with its sister organization, Les Filles Unies pour l’Education, or “Girls United for Education,” established around the same time by a group of high school students in Bamako, Mali. These young women travel from the capital city to the villages of the students who are sponsored by the program, where they meet with the students’ teachers and guardians, deliver materials, and communicate each student’s progress with School Girls Unite.
Aside from its direct aid, the organization and its chapters are an active part of international activism and discussion. As participants in the Global Campaign for Education – United States (GCE-US), School Girls Unite sends its activists to GCE-US events where they share ideas on the goal of universal, basic education with policy makers and the public. School Girls Unite has also worked to mobilize grassroots support for the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl (October 11), celebrated for the first time in the United States in 2012.
School Girls Unite both promotes and embodies the idea that all girls and women, of any age, can stand in solidarity with sisters around the globe. Their slogan, “There is no minimum age for leadership,” is evident across the board in the girls who began the organization, their partners in Mali, and the very girls they help to educate and support.
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