By: Kimberly Curtis on March 21, 2013 As the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women wrapped up last week, Kathy Calvin used her position as the President and CEO of the UN Foundation to call attention to the issue of the rights of women and girls in an address on Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. While highlighting the progress that has been made through national and international policies such as the Millennium Development Goals, she also reiterated the importance of continuing to advance the “girl effect” – where a healthy, educated and empowered girl has a real chance to break the cycle of poverty not just for herself, but for those around her as well. After giving an impressive list of statistics of how much the protection of the rights of adolescent girls can improve key development indicators such as wage parity and education, Calvin walked the audience through a short history of international pressure for girl rights and the progress made in just a few short years. Not only has the issue made it to the international stage as seen through the inclusion of gender equality in the MDGs, but countries are slowly starting to recognize the importance of women and girls in the social and economic fabric of developing nations. One clear sign of this that Calvin pointed out is that attitudes towards maternal and child mortality have shifted where their occurrence is far less acceptable than seen with previous generations. The result of this culture shift is more popular pressure to enact national policies and agendas that limit the risk to mothers and children, leading to a substantial drop around the world in the number of mothers killed in childbirth and deaths of children under the age of five. As Calvin said, this progress is not accidental but a direct byproduct of pressure and policies. However despite gains, much can be improved in this area. While adolescent girls have the potential to be real change makers in their societies, they are often not afforded the opportunities to realize that potential. Calvin outlined key steps that could be taken to support the potential of adolescent girls and improve the lives of women around the world. For example, better data is needed to understand the needs and desires of girls around the world while there also needs to be a concerted effort to overturn national policies that discriminate based on gender and enforce more positive policies. In the meantime, national governments and the international community should invest in programs that have already proven effective in empowering girls and work to scale. Programs like these can easily increase access to training and jobs which improve wage potential and the ability of girls and women to provide for their themselves and their families. Likewise, the fight against child marriage must continue while access to family planning should be expanded, especially for young married girls; on these two points Calvin reiterated that while we often view these issues through a cultural and religious lens, they are also public health issues that have can have a devastating impact on young girls. Questions from the audience focused on the differences between developed countries such as the US and the developing world. But Calvin pointed out that for all the differences we may notice, the potential of girls and their hopes for their lives remain consistent around the world. The recent debate in the US over women “having it all” by balancing work and family are no different from the needs and desires of a woman in the developing world who also faces tough choices about how to care for her family as a mother while also finding the means to provide for it. The similarities are the reason why the UN Foundation founded programs like Girl Up to connect girls around the world and help them reach their full potential. By focusing on what everyone has to gain from including girls in the conversation and providing them the opportunities to succeed, we can not only improve their lives but improve our own as well.