Sunday, October 13, was the International Day of the Girl. Roots of Health celebrates this holiday with girls every year, either with girls in our communities or with students in schools. One year we brought a lovely white cake, beautifully frosted in pink fluff, to a community of girls, some of whom said they had never tasted the cake before!

IN 2013 the ground-breaking film Girl Rising came out to show the skeptics in the world that Education for Girls was a total game-changer, an absolute miracle worker against poverty and inequality. The filmmakers put together a series of sketches of nine different young girls in a variety of desperate situations, from being a bonded slave in India to being a prostitute in Cambodia, to being an earthquake survivor in Haiti. All of the girls threw their hearts and souls into getting an education: the little Haitian girl simply went to the post-quake outdoor school class and refused to leave, no matter how many times she was asked to do so because her mother had not paid the money. And in every case education provided the lift she needed to rise to her best possible life!

Almost every serious thinker about poverty and inequality has come to this conclusion as well. The best thing any country or government can do to improve its economic status overall and to begin to equalize economic standing within is to educate girls. In his book Factfulness, the Swedish doctor Hans Rosling uses statistical data to make the point that the world is actually better off in many ways than it was, say, 20 years ago, and he shows women’s education is one of the specific measures that is rising in almost every country in the world. Melinda and Bill Gates have pointed out that education for girls results in not only more money but also better health in families. Barack Obama, speaking to a group of highly educated men in the Middle East declared that the best thing countries in the region could do in order to gain an economic edge over the rest of the world would be to educate and bring into the economy more women.

In the Philippines we are lucky as there is already a strong tradition of women in education and women excelling in education. Many families, if they can only afford to educate one child, will choose a girl for this privilege. But increasingly over the years greater numbers of girls have found their education derailed by unplanned pregnancies. So it turns out that being educated in reproductive health is a very important ingredient in the phenomenon of Girls’ Rising.

Roots of Health provides reproductive health education to both girls and boys. And our Youth Advocates are an amazing group of girls and boys dedicated to spreading this sort of education, in reproductive health, to their friends. And they are rising, finding new powers and abilities all the time. The day before the International Day of the Girl, I sat down with two young women advocates, L.J. and Rufizah, and I was completely taken in with their confidence and dedication. They are college girls, Rufizah in WPU and L.J. in PSU, and they say that with some reservations, reproductive health is becoming a more acceptable field of inquiry: school officials, nurses, teachers, parents, and students are more aware that this is one necessary piece to keeping girls rising, soaring in fact. L.J. is studying Civil Engineering and tells me there are only seven boys in her block of about 40 Engineering students. The idea that this is a male pursuit is gone. Rufizah is in Fisheries and Environmental Studies and also ready to make her mark in one of WPU’s most important endeavors.

So keeping girls in school, at all levels everywhere, is one of the most important things we can do for the progress of our country.