On the day the world marked the second annual International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, I found myself at the historic Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Anne’s story of hiding in a secret space in the building where her father worked, followed by her capture and passing in a Nazi concentration camp, is one of the most widely known stories in the world. Despite her confinement, she remained focused on her dreams to become a journalist, and continued her studies even while in hiding. Her sister, Margot, took a shorthand correspondence course using an assumed name, while Anne read and studied and wrote the diary that would be her legacy to the world.
The UN declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child with a mission “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.” Many years after her passing, Anne Frank continues to remind us of our responsibility to do just that. Although she never had a chance to reach her full potential, her story has inspired millions, especially girls, to believe in themselves and in others.
Education is the key to putting girls on a path to a better life. Today only 30 percent of all girls are ever enrolled in secondary school. In many countries, less than one third of university students are women. The average sub-Saharan African girl from a low-income, rural household gets less than two years of schooling and never learns to read and write, to add and subtract. Compare this to the average sub-Saharan African boy who fully completes primary school.
The difference that is made by even one more year of school is dramatic, boosting a girl’s wages by 10-20 percent. An educated girl is also a healthy girl: if she completes basic education, she’ll be three times less likely to contract HIV.
I have had the great privilege to work with and mentor a number of young students (both male and female) through the Johnson & Johnson Bridge to Employment program, that helps young people build solid futures by encouraging them to enroll in higher education and pursue careers in health care. The program motivates students to set high goals and work hard. I have been inspired by their enduring passion for their chosen field, and the tenacity to do all they can to further their studies, including one extraordinary young woman named Natasha, who I’ve mentored since 2003 when she was a ninth-grader! We have learned a great deal from each other on her path to becoming a physician, and she is now in her second year of medical school at New York University. She credits her adult mentors with giving her the support and encouragement to achieve her dreams. Natasha will become an outstanding health care professional because she believed in herself and tirelessly pursued educational opportunities.
We will never know whether Anne Frank would have become the journalist she dreamed of being. But her legacy lives on in girls who continue to inspire us with determination to learn even when the odds were stacked against them and in those who work to make sure education is never out of reach.
Take Action Challenge
Join Johnson & Johnson in supporting girls’ education by donating a photo to help a girl in Liberia go to school with Girl Up. Get details here and download the app! For every photo you upload, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 to this great program.*
*Johnson & Johnson has curated a list of trusted causes, and you can donate a photo to one cause, once a day. Each cause will appear in the app until it reaches its goal, or the donation period ends. If the goal isn’t reached, the cause will still get a minimum donation.