NPR logo It's All About The Girls: Is The World Listening To Them?

It's All About The Girls: Is The World Listening To Them?

"My shoes wear out from walking to school, and then I can't go because we can't afford new shoes," says a girl from Indonesia.

"I want to live freely," says another girl, in Egypt. "I don't want people to dictate what I do. No one to control us, no one to hit us, no one to tell us what clothes to wear."

In Congo, a girl starts to list her chores: "Tidying the house, fetching water, preparing meals," she says. "There are so many I can't even name them all."

Their voices are part of a chorus of more than 500 girls, ages 10 to 19, from 14 developing countries. They've shared their challenges and dreams with the Girl Declaration, a campaign started last year by the Nike Foundation.

The aim: to change the way the world thinks about girls, says Lyric Thompson at the International Center for Research on Women, which worked with Nike on the project.

Writing this week in the journal Science, Melinda Gates says that "no society can achieve its potential with half of its population marginalized and disempowered."

They are the "engines" of global development, writes the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And they should be at the center of development plans and goals.

She's talking about the hundreds of millions of women and girls who face gender inequality around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

But activists say the world's girls have been left out of the current Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015. The existing goals focus on issues like poverty and education. They fail to address child marriage, genital mutilation and adolescent pregnancy, Thompson says.

The United Nations plans to replace the current goals with a new agenda for 2015, and advocates like Thompson have been pushing for world leaders and policy makers to turn their attention to girls.

Nike has worked with 25 development organizations to capture the voices of young adolescents. Since its launch last year, the Girl Declaration has been presented to leaders around the world and also shared online through the leaves of a virtual "Girl Tree."

Thompson and others want to set priorities that will help the 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty. And the best way to understand what a girl needs is to ask her.