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Around the world, girls are struggling to access an education and live free from the threats of child marriage and human trafficking. Every year, 14 million girls become child brides and 98% of those trafficked for sexual exploitation are women and girls. A mere 30% of all girls are enrolled in secondary school. In the northeastern provinces of Kenya, the statistics are even bleaker: Less than 20% of girls are ever enrolled in schools, and many never complete their education. 

In this challenging context Kakenya Ntaiya is making huge strides for girls’ empowerment. The first girl to leave her Maasai village of Enoosaen and attend college in the United States, she received her doctorate in education and returned to her village to launch the Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE), the first primary school for girls in Enoosaen, in 2009. From the first class of 30 students, the school has grown to serve 160 students who represent the area’s most underprivileged and vulnerable girls.

For her incredible work as an activist for girls’ education, Kakenya was recently named one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2013. With the support of the award, Kakenya plans to expand her work – reaching more girls at the local, regional and national levels to drive positive societal change across Kenya. “I want to show people how one person can create a movement.”

Unfortunately the challenges faced by the girls in Kakenya’s village are still too common.

Today, the International Day of the Girl Child, Vital Voices joins organizations, leaders and individuals like Kakenya in calling for a change.

Vital Voices has long been dedicated to the empowerment of girls worldwide. As a coalition member of Girls Not Brides, and signatory of the Girl Declaration, Vital Voices works to raise awareness of and combat the global practice of early and forced marriage.

While Malala Yousafzai recovered from the assassination attempt, Vital Voices incubated the Malala Fund to support girls’ education worldwide. Across our programs, Vital Voices has been committed to supporting innovative leaders who work for girls’ empowerment. Though they hail from different corners of the world, these leaders share a common commitment: To free girls from the threats of exploitation and unleash their potential to build a better world.

Meet some of these innovative leaders: 

A longtime activist working to combat human trafficking in CancĢ¼n, Mexico, Amaya Renobales has made significant contributions to protecting children from sexual exploitation. She has worked for ECPAT USA mobilizing the private tourism sector and civil society to prevent child sex trafficking in tourism since 2006. In 2010, she founded Via Humanita to provide trainings and projects to preventing human trafficking, advancing legislative reform and promoting children’s and women’s rights. She has developed a training program for medical professionals, service providers, and teachers on how to prevent and respond to human trafficking that has received international attention. Amaya recently participated in the Global Freedom Exchange, an innovative partnership between Hilton Worldwide and Vital Voices that brings together emerging and established women leaders who are at the forefront of global efforts to prevent and respond to child trafficking. Amaya joined 25 other women leaders to exchange best practices and effective strategies for combating the destructive practice of child sex trafficking. Amaya is advocating for girls’ rights in legislation and public policy in Mexico. 


Hakim Zadi, a social mobilizer for Sujag Sansar Organization, has been reaching out to girls in rural Pakistan by using drama to spread awareness of the harmful consequences of child marriage and empower girls through the dramatic arts. Ms. Zadi became part of the Vital Voices network through the VVLead Fellowship Program, an initiative run by Vital Voices with funding support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development. The fellowship program supports a global network of emerging and established women leaders who provide unusual and sustainable solutions to pressing problems that have impeded women and girls’ progress and ability to participate fully in society and the economy. Reaching girls most vulnerable to child marriage, Hakim helps girls postpone marriage until adulthood.  


Here in the United States, ANNpower Fellows are creating change in their communities. In partnership with ANN INC., the parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, the  ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative empowers young women from across the US with the leadership skills they need to affect global progress, invest in their communities, and begin their journeys as the next generation of leaders. Monica, a 2012 ANNpower Fellow and Grantee, is one of these remarkable young women. For her ANNpower Project, she organized workshops for elementary school girls to ignite their interest in computer science and engineering careers. Her passion for technology and gender equality has already made an impact closing the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. At the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, she shared her story and her vision of the future for girls in education. As a young woman leader, Monica is paying it forward by empowering young girls through mentoring.

By unleashing the potential of girls, women like Kakenya, Amaya, Hakim, and Monica are transforming the world.

Get involved in the global movement for girls:

  • Vote for Kakenya Ntaiya for CNN’s Hero of the Year for 2013.
  • Read I Am Malala, the story of Malala Yousafzai’s courageous fight for the right to girls’ education.  
  • Share this video about child marriage from Girls Not Brides and join the global movement to end child marriage.
  • Spread the word about the Girl Declaration to ensure that girls’ voices are included in post-2015 Framework for the Millennium Development Goals.
  • Take a girl to watch Girl Rising, the 10×10 film about the power of girls’ education.

This image on our home page was shot in India by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly.