Girl Up picks Capitol Hill for lesson in advocacy

Girl Up

The Girl Up Leadership Summit culminated in a day of lobbying Congress. Credit: Girl Up

Heading to Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers why they need to support girls in developing nations at first seemed intimidating to 15-year-old Sarah Gale, one of 100 participants at this year’s Girl Up Leadership Summit.

Gale, after all, had no experience lobbying Congress, having only just finished her freshman year of high school.

But Gale forged ahead to the Capitol anyway, joining 100 other girls and young women who also put aside their youth and inexperience to meet with elected officials about a global issue they believe the United States should help solve.

Lobby Day came on the last day of the summit, a three-day gathering from June 10 through June 12 to build support for the broader Girl Up movement and inspire supporters to continue raising awareness, funds and advocacy for marginalized girls around the world.

Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, advocates on behalf on an estimated 600 million adolescent girls living in developing counties by empowering American girls to become part of the solution.

The summit was supported by several major sponsors, including Dell, which provided a Smile Booth for taking photos. Dell’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt, led multiple sessions to share her advice and guidance.

Girls push for equality

Gale, who attends Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said the prospect of speaking to lawmakers “seemed a bit scary.” But the actual experience wasn’t, she said, and ended up being a highlight of the entire summit.

Gale teamed up with five other girls from Florida for a daylong series of meetings with Sunshine State lawmakers and their staff members. Their tour included a stop at the office of Sen. Marco Rubio, a prominent figure within the Republican Party.

The goal of every girl storming the Capitol that day was to make sure lawmakers knew that many developing countries aren’t registering the births of millions of girls, or providing them with government IDs.

Girls who aren’t counted have a much more difficult time accessing government services, including healthcare and education. Congress can help girls by making equal counting a prerequisite when striking agreements, they told lawmakers.

Gale said her fears were assuaged by lawmakers’ willingness to listen.

“They were interested in hearing what we had to say and supporting us because at the end of the day, they want to help people,” Gale said.

Building confidence

Annie Gersh, a 15-year-old incoming sophomore at the all-girls Marlborough School in Los Angeles, called the reception by lawmakers inspiring.  They seemed interested in making girls a priority in their foreign policy agenda, she said.

“It gave me confidence that the representatives are listening to us and the Girl Up supporters,” Gersh said.

Summit organizers prepared the girls for their trip to the Capitol with a morning tips session led by Julie Willig, the grassroots officer for Girl Up, and Inuki Pantin, deputy director of UN Foundation Advocacy.

Willig and Pantin also led a workshop on the first day of the summit about how to become an effective advocate and build relationships with members of Congress.

Gersh said the experience helped crystallize her career plans, which involve studying international relations and pursuing public office.

“I think my ultimate goal is to become secretary of state,” she said.

Nick Clunn is an award-winning journalist who has worked for several websites and daily newspapers, including The Record in New Jersey. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University. Follow him @NickClunn.

Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn is a journalist covering the tech beat and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He lives in New Jersey, where he had worked as a staff writer for several leading daily newspapers and websites.
Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn
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