How Can Girls Lead If They Can't Choose


How Can Girls Lead if They Can’t Choose?

  1. Story
  2. Sexual & Reproductive Health, Rights & Justice


This piece originally appeared on Girl Up Executive Director Melissa Kilby’s LinkedIn Newsletter, “Leading Between the Lines.”

My mom was born in the late 1940s. She grew up in pre-Roe time and saw her rights expand in her early adulthood. By the time I was born in 1981, women had the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies. Today, my daughter is five years old. She stands to have less freedom to make decisions about her life than I had, and even less than her grandmother had.

The recently leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court voting to overturn Roe v. Wade signals that the rights of girls, women, and birthing people in the United States are about to greatly recede.

If this decision is made final, for the first time in 50 years, girls will have fewer rights than previous generations. More potential. Less agency. More education and awareness. Less autonomy. More tools and platforms. Less freedom.

Melissa kilby,
Executive director, girl up

I will not accept that my daughter, or any girl, will live in a country that offers her fewer fundamental rights to govern her own body than it did me.

Society benefits when girls and women experience equal rights, freedom, opportunities, power, and influence. At Girl Up, our mission is to prepare a generation of girls to step into their power as leaders, harness their skills, and advocate for the betterment of society. We believe that every girl deserves access to equal rights no matter where she lives in the world, whatever her financial means, education level, religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or her myriad intersecting identities. The foundation of a girl’s most basic rights is rooted in her agency and autonomy, her ability to make decisions about her own body and life including whether or not to have an abortion.

At Girl Up, we know that being born a girl universally means your potential is equal, and we fight for that equal potential to be a reality everywhere in the world. We’ve seen girls’ rights expand in many corners of the globe including México, Mozambique, and Nepal to name a few. We’ve also seen them recede elsewhere, in Afghanistan with the takeover by the Taliban and Poland, which has passed some of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Europe. Now in the U.S., a country that is one of the largest global funders working to promote sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice worldwide, those very same rights are under threat.

If this ruling moves to new court precedent and the U.S. Congress does not pass national legislation guaranteeing the right to bodily autonomy and abortion, then this generation of girls and youth will have an even harder path to leadership, power, and influence. Here’s what they are saying:

“This harsh decision would disproportionately affect my fellow women of color, as well as impoverished communities who already face such large disparities within reproductive rights. The end of Roe would not only mean a complete infringement on women’s reproductive and personal rights, but it also means that if an individual is found having an abortion or miscarriage, they would be convicted of a felony and be deprived of their voting rights, which would thus lead to an increased restriction of reproductive freedoms in the future,” said Sriya Chippalthurty, 17, a Girl Up leader in Texas.

“The United States was founded upon the principles of liberty, justice, and the ‘pursuit of happiness,’ however, the SCOTUS leak drastically deviates from these principles. How can we call ourselves a country of liberty when a woman does not have bodily autonomy? How can we call ourselves a country of equality when a women is unable to make her own choices about her own body? How can we call ourselves a country of justice when women are criminalized for their right to choose?” asks says Denia Smith, 17, a Girl Up leader in New Jersey. “As a gender equality activist, I am appalled, disgusted, and indefinitely afraid: afraid that my generation and those of our daughters must grow up cognizant that our human rights are in imminent peril.”

I am appalled, disgusted, and indefinitely afraid—afraid that my generation and those of our daughters must grow up cognizant that our human rights are in imminent peril.

Denia, 17
new jersey

“I feel exasperated and speechless. Regardless of your political stance, it’s undebatable that a ban on abortion is a restriction on women’s bodies. It’s disheartening to see that the highest court of this country deems female bodies as objects that they have control over and disregards that right to privacy and bodily autonomy,” says Sarah Park, 17, from New Jersey. “This is not an issue that should be politicized— it’s a decision and right for female bodies only, for their freedom and health.”

Subah Saiyara Mahbub, 19, from New York says “disregarding women’s abortion rights is equivalent to disregarding women’s natural rights. The overturning of Roe v. Wade will not only be a huge step back for women but for 21st-century America. Women with relatively high financial means will always find a medium for abortion, leaving the working class and underprivileged women with disproportionate access to safe abortion. I fear for the women who will be forced to carry the child of their abuser, forced to carry a child in their teen years, forced to carry a child with lifelong health complications due to abortion restrictions. Simply put, overturning Roe v. Wade will be similar to turning a blind eye to the difficulties and complexities a woman has to endure in her lifetime.”

The good news, the tiny sliver of a silver lining, is those who wish to diminish the agency of girls and young birthing people have grossly underestimated their power. Girl Up leaders have led movements for sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice for years – in Argentina, advocating successfully for legalized abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy; in Brazil, lobbying to establish laws to address period poverty; in Romania, breaking taboos around abortion; in Kenya, addressing violence against girls and women, and in the U.S. collectively marching to save reproductive rights.

No alt text provided for this image
Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on May 14.

These young leaders here in the U.S. will continue the fight for their rights to agency and bodily autonomy. They will fight the patriarchy. They will stage walk outs, they will advocate and they will vote. They are ready. Are we?

As policymakers, decision makers, and global citizens, it is up to us to stand alongside them and fight like hell to ensure this generation of girls has equal rights. We should be removing barriers not adding them. We should be expanding rights, not reducing them.

We cannot doom girls to futures with fewer fundamental rights. When girls rise, we all rise – and the inverse is also true.

To learn more about sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice and how young leaders are advocating for it in their communities worldwide, click here. For ways to get involved with Girl Up’s SRHRJ initiatives and to stay up to date on our upcoming resources, check out our online Community here. If you want to connect with fellow Girl Up SRHRJ activists, join this Community group.


Give to Girl Up

Your support of our girl changemakers means Girl Up can continue to work toward a world where girls have equal value, opportunity, and the chance to reach their fullest potential. You can make a difference in the life of a girl by donating today.

How to Get Involved

All around the world, our network of a million supporters is mobilizing for gender equality. Will you stand with us?

  1. Careers + Internships

    Become the newest member of the Girl Up team!

    Apply today
  2. Alum Network

    Where former Girl Up activists & members can connect, grow, & give back as they navigate adulthood.

  3. a girl who is looking down and using her finger to scrolling the phone

    Sign up to get the latest news and happenings in Girl Up’s movement.

  4. a girl with big smile on her face wearing Gril Up t-shirt (close shot)
    Join our Movement

    Join more than 270,000 changemakers from 155 countries and all 50 U.S. states.

    Start a Club
  5. two girls are smiling and writing down notes and sharing a laptop
    Explore the Issues

    All issues are gender justice issues! Find out more about what our members are passionate about.

  6. Ayanna Pressley speaking on the #girlhero event
    Upcoming Events

    We’d love to see YOU at an in-person or virtual Girl Up event.

    Join us

Close Overlay