I was incredibly fortunate to be born in the United States. Growing up here has meant having the opportunity to pursue higher education and the chance to follow my ambitions. It is where I received a birth certificate — something I have 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. Millions of girls today are being overlooked on a fundamental level and being denied the opportunity to be registered at birth in their communities. This barrier, on top of many other challenges including child marriage, physical violence, human trafficking and limited educational and economic opportunities, prevents girls from reaching their full potential. This March, Americans should step up to help girls around the globe to be counted.
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 privileges that such a document allows — a driver’s license, the right to vote, even the ability to get on a plane. Yet millions of girls and women across the globe live every single day without even a birth certificate. In many parts of the world, girls grow up without any opportunity to obtain an education or a job, buy their own land or start their own businesses. They are essentially invisible members of society.
Approximately one out of 8 people worldwide is a girl or a young woman between the ages of 10 and 24, one of the fastest-growing segments of the population in developing countries. In this, the lack of documentation for these girls and women becomes a global issue. Girls’ and women’s health and welfare is fundamental to creating and maintaining strong economies and communities. When a society handicaps girls at birth by failing to acknowledge their very existence, it holds back entire nations from reaching their potential.
For these reasons, it is time to urge U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, as well as our congressional representatives, to take action by supporting the Girls Count Act of 2013.
This new legislation aims to tackle the rights issue by encouraging countries to enact laws — including the promotion of birth certifications and national identity cards — that promote girls’ and boys’ full participation in society. It also urges the U.S. government to work with partners like the United Nations, which can help countries facilitate data collection and establish identification laws to ensure that girls are active participants in the social, economic, legal and political sectors of their societies.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 25 print edition. Lia Cairone is a contributing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.