The Girl Up campaign emerged internationally in 2010 as a result of a United Nations campaign to provide financial assistance and community support for adolescent girls in developing nations. In just five short years, Girl Up has raised over $5.6 million to help girls in developing countries attend school, receive medical care, escape violence and build leadership skills to last a lifetime.
By Aliyah Conley
Girl Up’s most notable accomplishments include playing an instrumental role in the establishment of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) to prevent child marriage, promoting policy changes such as raising the legal age of marriage to 18 in Malawi and the passage of the Children’s Law of Liberia to guarantee rights for children in Liberia.
The University of Texas at Austin offers several opportunities to engage in this discussion and facilitate change on campus for students who are passionate about women’s issues. In the fall of 2014, senior nutrition major Sunita Rao added to that community by bringing Girl Up to the UT student body.
Having grown up in Seattle, where Girl Up has a larger community presence, Rao felt compelled to bring the organization to the South. Operating in five developing nations, including Guatemala, India, Malawi, Liberia, and Ethiopia, Girl Up distributes bicycles, backpacks, school supplies, health information, support centers and more to girls in these countries. In addition to providing material resources for young girls, Rao explains, “there’s also a leadership development portion in each country, especially in India. We work with UN women on the ground where there are a lot of child brides.”
Most of the work done off site pertains to fundraising for supplies, spreading awareness and inspiring student leaders like Rao. Girl Up’s global initiatives are immense, and as a result they may seem a bit inaccessible to those of us on campus. However, because of her dedication to the cause, Rao’s involvement has enabled her to make a difference on site. “Two weeks ago I went to Malawi with Girl Up to give away about 550 bikes to girls in a really remote village,” Rao says.
Since not everyone has the ability to hop over to Malawi, there are many opportunities to make a difference from the 40 Acres. Last week, Girl Up UT hosted the “Week of the Girl” — a week that included a variety of events to raise awareness and collect donations.
The events included a kickoff on the West Mall with a photobooth and free Girl Up SWAG. Students could write on balloons why they care about girls and release them into the sky. Wendy Davis spoke at the Flawn Academic Center about the empowerment of women, the importance of educating women and girls and why women should be in positions in leadership. The organization also held a screening of the acclaimed documentary “Girl Rising,” and a profit share with Qdoba. “What we really want to get out of this week is to build membership, awareness and have people be committed to the cause and helping adolescent girls,” Rao says.
In spite of only being at UT for about a year, the Girl Up chapter has been named the 2015 “Best Political/Activist Organization” on campus by the Office of the Dean of Students. Rao is optimistic about the future of the organization. “This is just the beginning, y’all,” she says, beaming with pride.