What do you want to be when you grow up?

For many of us, it’s the first question we remember hearing. Yet in many parts of the world, girls reach adulthood without ever being asked about their dreams and ambitions.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are one of these girls. Instead of pursuing your education and interests, you are expected to work day and night to support the needs of your family. You face immense risks, living under the threat of early marriage and violence. You experience harassment and abuse when you step outside, and are often isolated inside your home. You watch your brother’s opportunities expand, as yours steadily shrink.

The challenges you face make it difficult to recognize your own value and untapped potential.

Empowering girl leaders

Engaging girls is important to reduce their exposure to harm and to expand the vital role they can play in shaping their own lives and communities.

This is the reason the International Rescue Committee brings together groups of girls to explore their power and potential and cultivate essential skills. Paired with mentors from her community, each girl expands her idea of what is possible, creates a vision for herself, and develops a strategic plan for achieving it. She then designs and directs a photo shoot, posing as her future self, having achieved her goal.

A young girl examining an x-ray.

Fatima, Age 11  |  Future Surgeon  "In this image, I am examining an x-ray of a patient to see what is causing the pain in her chest. I treat many patients, but the patient I care most about is my father, who has lots of medical issues. To be able to help my father, this makes me feel strong, powerful, and capable." Photo: Meredith Hutchison

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A young girl reading a blueprint.

Fatima, Age 16  |  Future Self: Architect  "When I was young, people told me that a woman could not become an architect. But I dreamt constantly of making beautiful homes for families, and designing buildings that bring people joy. Now that I’ve reached my vision, I hope I am a model for other girls—showing them that you should never give up on your dream." Photo: Meredith Hutchison

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An IRC pharmacist helping a patient.

Wissam, Age 15  |  Future Self: Pharmacist  "Our neighbor in Syria had a pharmacy, and when I was younger I would go next door and help. As the war started, I watched this pharmacist help the injured. When I saw this I knew that this was an important job and what I wanted to do. Now that I am a pharmacist, I see myself as a role model for girls and a leader changing the world." Photo: Meredith Hutchison

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A young police officer.

Fatima, Age 11  |  Future Self:​ Police Officer  "I am a kind, yet serious policewoman who is respected and a role model in the community. People are not afraid of me, but call me when they are in trouble. I teach them how to respect and love one another. I fight for justice. I help the innocent." Photo: Meredith Hutchison

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Girls share their photos with their families, friends and neighbors, inspiring many other girls to consider their own potential. The IRC partners with the girls to engage parents and community leaders in conversations that explore ways they can keep girls safe and equitably support them to achieve their goals.

Join us in empowering girl leaders across the globe—like those profiled here—who have clear visions about what they want to achieve and the insight and potential to create a better future for themselves and the world.

Make education safe for all

This year marks the 25th year of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign (Nov 25 - Dec 10), a global effort to raise awareness of the importance of empowering and protecting women and girls.

The theme of the 2016 campaign is “From peace in the home to peace in the world: Make education safe for all.”  Education is a fundamental human right — but ingrained discrimination, inequality and violence mean too many girls are prevented from getting an education.

In many places around the world, fear of their daughters facing harassment prompts many parents to keep them home. The possibility of early marriage or forced marriage also can cut short a girl’s education. And for far too many of those who do get an education, violence and discrimination follow them into the classroom.


When a humanitarian crisis strikes, girls are 2.5 times more likely than boys to drop out of school. And some are losing their entire childhoods to conflict: War not only disrupts their education but their entire future.

Evidence has shown that educating and keeping girls safe is one of the best investments that societies and communities can make. For each year a girl stays in primary school, she earns 10-20% more as an adult. And for each year of high school she finishes, her income jumps 15-25%. A more peaceful and prosperous future for girls means a more peaceful and prosperous future for their countries.

Get involved

Girls have fundamental rights, dreams, and ambitions that should be recognized and supported. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram over the 16 Days and beyond to learn more and help us spread the word.