Global Girls’ Bill of Rights: What Rights Should Every Girl Have?

October 11th marks a special date to celebrate girls’ resilience and empowerment, when we analyze how far we’ve come and how much further we can go in ensuring that girls everywhere have access to the opportunities they need to thrive. This year’s International Day of the Girls’ theme is “GirlForce: Unscripted and unstoppable.” This theme perfectly describes the MAIA Girl Pioneers and their bold path to empowerment. They are trailblazers who are forging a new path through education, mentorship, and leadership development to achieve their infinite impact.

Girl Pioneers during the Girls’ Bill of Rights activity at the MAIA Impact School

Girl Pioneers during the Girls’ Bill of Rights activity at the MAIA Impact School

At MAIA, we believe in the importance of girls’ voices and girl leaders. For far too long, girls have been left out of important conversations about their rights and their future. The world has been making decisions for them rather than with them. This is why we partnered with She’s The First, Akili Dada, and hundreds of girls around the world to develop the International Girls’ Bill of Rights, written by girls, for girls, everywhere. This campaign aims to start a worldwide conversation on the rights that girls deserve and demand.

Girl Pioneers during the Girls’ Bill of Rights activity at the MAIA Impact School

Girl Pioneers during the Girls’ Bill of Rights activity at the MAIA Impact School

Here at the MAIA Impact School, mentors led classroom discussions about girls’ rights. Girl Pioneers selected what they believe are the top rights every girl should have. Three leaders from each mentorship class then participated in a debate, where MAIA’s top rights were decided. We submitted our responses online, and a global panel of girls (including one Girl Pioneer) reviewed over 1,000 responses from all around the world and together selected the final 10 rights for the International Girls’ Bill of Rights.


Read the Girls’ Bill of Rights today and join us in amplifying their voices.


All girls have the right to…

1) Free, quality education which prepares them for the modern world: We deserve equal opportunity to attend school all the way to graduation, and we deserve freedom and safe transportation to get there. A girl's right to school should not be impacted by her cultural background, her pregnancy status, or the money her family may lack.

2) Equality: We should be free from discrimination and stereotypes because of being a girl, whether at home, at school, or in our communities. We should have access to equal opportunities and we should never be harassed nor oppressed due to what we wear, what we do, or how we express ourselves.

3)  Involvement in decision-making and pursuit of leadership positions without fear of discrimination, harassment, or persecution: Girls must be allowed to decide what our future holds and be able to lead just as much as boys in school, at home, or in the community. Any decision that affects us should include us in a position of authority. We have the right for our voices to be listened to and respected.

4) Documentation: Every girl has the right to access or acquire all legal and academic documents that will allow her to access opportunities and lead a full life recognized by relevant authorities.

5) Comprehensive sexual education and access to free, quality reproductive healthcare: This includes an education that informs us about our rights, consent, contraception, and healthy relationships. We should also have access to abortion and to proper healthcare, without criticism or shame.

6) Protection from harmful traditions and enjoyment of positive cultural practices: We must be kept safe from non-consensual practices, and be given the opportunity to express the positive elements of our cultures.

7) Safety from all forms of violence: All girls deserve healthy and safe relationships, including with romantic partners, parents, and family members. We should be safe from violence in all locations. All girls deserve shelter, clothing, and food.

8) Decision-making about their body & sexuality: Girls have the right to choose who they love, regardless of gender, and to express their sexuality without censure. We have a right to say “no” and to choose who, when, and if we will marry.

9) Protection under the law without fear or unequal treatment: Every girl has the right to seek legal protection in any situation where she feels insecure or undergoes an experience that needs legal attention, without being judged or her claim disregarded. No girl should ever be in a position where she has to choose to be silent due to fear of lack of legal protection.

10) Freedom from exploitation: All girls deserve a happy childhood. We should never be forced to work, and we should be kept safe from child trafficking and early marriage.

Girl Pioneers during the Girls’ Bill of Rights activity at the MAIA Impact School

Girl Pioneers during the Girls’ Bill of Rights activity at the MAIA Impact School

One of MAIA’s strategic goals is to unlock leadership potential. We want Girl Pioneers to become leaders and to voice their beliefs wherever they are. The results of this approach are tangible; for example, 62% of our Legacy Mentorship Program graduates are part of a community service project, and 58% of participants hold a formal leadership position within an organization. Through the Girls’ Bill of Rights activity, students used their critical-thinking and vocal empowerment skills. By strengthening these competencies, Girl Pioneers will have the tools needed to advocate for girls through their unique perspective and become leaders in their communities to enact the change that is needed.

The Journey of a MAIA Educator

At the MAIA Impact School, teachers are referred to as educators. This is a deliberate distinction made with the intention of creating completely new associations for the term “educator.” Educators are innovative, resilient, and creative problem-solvers. They represent MAIA’s unique approach to education and our strategy to break away from the norm.

In Guatemalan public schools, the teaching style is traditionally disengaged. Teachers stand at the front of the classroom as students sit in rows copying down everything the teacher says; participation is not required or expected. It was reported by 51 percent of students in public schools that teachers will leave the classroom to take a personal call, and 86 percent of students reported days when teachers simply did not show up for class. Yolanda, MAIA Impact School’s math educator, shared that when she was in school, she was afraid of participating in class. She thought she would be berated if she answered incorrectly and was never given the opportunity to develop her vocal empowerment skills.

Yolanda continued her studies, become a part of the 10 percent of young indigenous women to graduate from high school, and transitioned from student to teacher. In her first job, she found herself mirroring the behavior of her previous teachers. She followed a set curriculum that was developed decades ago and implemented the same teaching methodologies that were used in her school when she was younger. She did not focus on class participation or dynamic activities; rather, she simply delivered the content that was given to her.

Yolanda in class, photo by Livvy Runyon

Yolanda in class, photo by Livvy Runyon

Once Yolanda was hired to work at the MAIA Impact School, she went through a year of training before she began teaching. The journey from a teacher to an educator is challenging. Yolanda had to unlearn the understanding of teaching she had known to be true her whole life. She received 1000 hours of professional development training and had a content coach who helped her work through her new curriculum. Yolanda was surprised by the different approaches to solving math problems and was driven to learn and implement these methods in class. During her year of training, she learned to think outside the box and to implement innovative techniques in a culturally relevant setting. The more she had one-on-one coaching sessions and professional development workshops, the more curious she became.

Yolanda presenting at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Yolanda presenting at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

While extremely motivated by all that she was learning, Yolanda found it challenging to work on constantly innovating concepts and the language used in teaching. She found that by making her classroom an open space for dialogue and transforming the student/educator relationship into a cooperative one, she was able to work with the students on implementing her newly learned methodologies. After being shy and afraid of participating in class as a child, it was important to Yolanda that her students feel comfortable to speak out in class and that they know how to use their voice in an empowering way that supports their learning. This is also a competency called vocal empowerment, a cornerstone in MAIA’s education that is integrated in every level of instruction, with the goal that Girl Pioneers use their voice to express themselves in a healthy way. Yolanda welcomes students to the board to present their different approaches to math problems and opens a dialogue with the rest of the classroom to discuss different methods.

The journey of an educator at the MAIA Impact School is ongoing. Yolanda and her peers continue to receive professional development workshops and have weekly meetings with their content coaches. Earlier this year, Yolanda presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the largest gathering of math educators in North America. This once-shy, quiet student has become a leader in mathematics and presented her paper on “Global Lessons from Rural Guatemala on the Empowerment of Women and Girls through Mathematics” at the conference. Our goal at the MAIA Impact School is to continue growing and innovating, and educators are leading the path in reinventing education in rural Guatemala.

MAIA educators are indigenous women who come from the same communities as the Girl Pioneers. Educators are role models to the students at the Impact School, showing them that indigenous women from rural areas have the potential to become leaders and to create change in their communities. At MAIA, we believe that empowering local female educators is the key to unlocking the potential of Girl Pioneers to have opportunities and a choice-filled life. 


Why Is Representation Important? An Interview With Girl Pioneers

Girl Pioneers running for Student Government at the MAIA Impact School (left-right: Marlin, Norma, Claudia Marisol, Yessica Maria)

Girl Pioneers running for Student Government at the MAIA Impact School (left-right: Marlin, Norma, Claudia Marisol, Yessica Maria)

While reflecting on the results of the 2019 Guatemalan presidential elections, the theme of representation is an important one to consider. On the national stage, Guatemalan politics is and has been male-dominated and typically excludes indigenous communities. But at the MAIA Impact School, Girl Pioneers are surrounded by female role models every day and are pushed to use their voices and become leaders. What do Girl Pioneers think about the lack of indigenous female representation on the national stage? How do they see their role in local and national politics? Today we hear from the four presidential candidates who ran for MAIA’s first student government.

Why is it important to have student leadership at the MAIA Impact School?

Norma: It’s important to have a leader, someone who can represent the voice of those who aren’t able to speak out. And it’s not just because you are a leader that you become everyone’s boss; it’s important to work with people from distinct backgrounds. A boss is someone who gives orders; a leader leads by example through their actions, and this is an essential trait for a presidential candidate.

Claudia Marisol: I agree with Norma. It’s very important for a student president to show up as a leader. Not everyone has the capacity to be a leader, and those who do have to speak up for their colleagues. This is also a learning experience for us to expand our knowledge and skills. By running for student government, we practice vocal empowerment and public speaking.

Yessica Maria: The voice of a leader is important because you can represent the voices of others, be a source of communication and expression for the rest of our colleagues.

Marlin: I believe this student government activity was important for students to learn how students express themselves as a political party and whether we have any similarity to politics in Guatemala City. For example, if a student president is just trying to benefit her immediate friends, then we can see some similar issues to corrupt political parties on a national level. It was important that during elections we stood by our values and proposals and that is how our student government president was elected—through honest and fair competition. 

How do you see the role and voice of a girl or woman from the Sololá region in a national context?

Claudia Marisol: Many view people from rural communities as vulnerable and uninformed. Older generations don’t trust their politics with girls, and it’s important that they do because we have more imagination and creativity to solve problems.

Norma: It is up to each of us how we develop our perspectives of our environments. Imagination is important for us to envision how we view our context in a better way—how can our public spaces be better, our soccer fields, our parks? We need to use imagination to bring innovation. It is also important for girls’ voices to be heard so that we can break this vicious cycle where men are given more power than women. It’s important for men and women to work together towards change using our different skill sets. During this last election, I heard people say that they would vote for the man because he is strong and women are frail. But people are just scared and don’t believe in women’s ability to succeed in leadership. I believe that the voice of a girl can change this perception, bringing courage and imagination to politics. 

Yessica Maria: The voice of a girl can bring about change—every girl has a unique perspective and opinion on what they see. I was talking to my mom, and she was telling me that Guatemala has never had a female president. I believe our generation can be the one to change that. If my colleagues decide they want to be president, they will have a support system giving them courage and support to reach their dreams. It’s important for children to also observe the actions of adults and for them to set the example for responsible civic engagement.

Marlin: A woman’s voice is very important for the country. If a woman had an important leadership role, she would take a firmer stance on violence, for example, since she knows that women are the ones who suffer most from violence in this country. Men don’t have this perspective and don’t have the will to change problems that don’t impact them like discrimination against women and violence against women. If we keep electing men, this cycle will never end.


Do you see any difference in a woman in leadership that is either from a rural or urban context?

Yessica Maria: I see these as very different. Women from rural areas work in agriculture and work in the fields. Meanwhile, women in an urban setting work in offices and don’t understand the reality in rural areas.

Marlin: I agree that it would be very different. In urban areas, people have very different jobs than those we have in rural areas. If a woman is elected in a city, she will try to raise the minimum wage, which will impact women employed in offices or homes in the city. In contrast, women in rural areas who work selling fruit they harvest and don’t have a fixed income or an employer are not taken into account with an increased minimum wage. What happens if one year’s harvest does not produce enough fruit? This is why it’s important to have an indigenous woman in power; she will take these hardships into account during her presidency.

Claudia Marisol: A leader from rural areas will better understand the economy in her region and use this knowledge to create policies that will benefit those who spend all day under the sun working in the fields. 

Do you have any concluding remarks?

Yessica Maria: I would like to thank the MAIA Impact School because they have taught us to use our voices and to speak in public. The skills we have gained are tools we have to succeed. We know the school will help us reach our dreams and create change in Sololá and in Guatemala as a whole.

Norma: I’d like to add that everyone has a unique characteristic, and we are all able to be leaders. We are all able to help and to create positive change in the future. You don’t have to be a president. A good leader can be a teacher who can create change for their students, an accountant who can administer finances honestly and with integrity, or a businesswoman who can produce well-made, high-quality goods to support her community. It’s important for both men and women to have a voice and vote.

Marlin: It’s also important to elect candidates we believe in, not someone who will sell us lies or short-term solutions, but someone who will really create positive change for our communities.

Claudia Marisol: It’s important for students, children, and women to be a driving force for change. Women are empowered to make their own decisions, and they are able to change the world and their communities. We have a voice and vote and should exercise this right.

Girl Pioneers during the Student Government Inauguration carrying the Guatemalan Flag

Girl Pioneers during the Student Government Inauguration carrying the Guatemalan Flag

This month, Guatemalans elected Giammattei, a right-wing male candidate, showing a commitment to the status quo in the national political setting. Girl Pioneers are taught critical thinking, and they are ready to become a new generation of leaders who will question the norm in regional and national politics. After graduating from MAIA’s Mentorship Program, 62% of participants are part of a community project, and 58% of participants hold a formal leadership position within an organization. MAIA’s empowerment methodology is applied in the same way Norma described leadership—through actions. Educators are from the same communities the Girl Pioneers come from; they are resilient, empowered, and highly trained professionals. They are teaching MAIA’s students what change looks like.

Norma won the student government elections and is the new student body president of the MAIA Impact School. She and the rest of her team meet with Vilma, Director of the Impact School Middle School, and discuss their plans and actions on a weekly basis. Norma ran on a platform that proposed unity, teamwork, and inclusion with the student body. She proposed a reading day when students dress as their favorite literary characters and share their favorite books, and that students get more involved with the Zayed garden sustainability project so that they can work and help the MAIA Impact School develop medicinal and vegetable gardens.

To learn more about the new president-elect of Guatemala and the recent political history:

Indigenous, Young, Female, and Running for President in Guatemala

Guatemala is holding national elections this year. Since Guatemala gained its independence in 1821, there have been 50 presidents, depending on what you count as a president, all of whom were male, none of whom were indigenous. This year we are so excited to have 5 women running for president, 4 of whom are Girl Pioneers at the MAIA Impact School who are running to be student body president.

Read More

Mentoring a Rising Generation of Leaders in Guatemala

Mentorship is one of the cornerstones of our work and is key to our success. It’s an investment in the soft skills that aren’t normally a priority in traditional schools. Centered their model around empowerment, MAIA’s mentors support Girl Pioneers to build resiliency, overcome challenges, achieve goals, learn about their rights, become active members in bettering society, and implement routines that are vital for healthy youth development. MAIA’s mentorship programs instill confidence in students and improve their interpersonal skills. Youth development is especially important in Guatemala where almost half of the population is under age 18.

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His Infinite Impact

It’s a little-known fact that in our early years we piloted a mentorship program for boys. While the program did not yield our desired results and was ultimately wound down, it did bring us Hector, who is now an accountant working with our operations team at the MAIA Impact School. Hector was one of the few who stayed in the program and graduated from high school. Hector is just 22 but is already proving his potential. He is well on his way to achieving MAIA’s four goals: lifelong learning, economic autonomy, a family on his terms, and empowered to empower.

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Using My Voice to Achieve My Dreams by Milsa Sajvin

I want to show my parents and my community that I am a woman, that I have dreams, and that I can achieve many things in my life. I want to create positive change in my community. I know it will be difficult, but I believe in myself, so I know that it is possible. I want to bring joy to my parents, especially to my mother, who has shown me what it means to be a strong woman.

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Pamela’s NYC Reflections

MAIA helped make the trip a success from the beginning. Everything I learned at MAIA, like the values and competencies, was put into practice right away. All of the themes that my mentor taught me were helpful. I used critical thinking, teamwork, and perseverance. I was resilient, responsible, and respectful. MAIA has given me many learning opportunities that have helped me in my life.

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