Christy Turlington Burns: Why we signed the Girl Declaration

The model and founder of Every Mother Counts on how the Declaration will improve maternal health and allow girls to be girls

Christy Turlington Burns is the founder of Every Mother Counts, a non-profit organisation committed to ending preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world and a signatory to the Girl Declaration. She also directed and produced the maternal health film No Woman, No Cry. Here she writes about why girls must be a priority in the post-2015 development goals.

 
Back in October, Every Mother Counts (EMC) signed the Girl Declaration because we believe in the power of girls to change the world.
 
EMC is a global maternal health advocacy campaign that I founded to reduce preventable deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth.

We signed the Declaration because one of the most important ways to achieve that is by delaying pregnancy and childbirth for adolescent girls. One of the Girl Declaration goals is to reduce the number of girls who become pregnant before 18 by 50 per cent by 2030.

Maternal safety   

Nearly 13 million adolescent girls give birth each year in developing countries and approximately 330,000 in the US.
 
It's no coincidence that one of the leading causes of death among girls under 18 is pregnancy and childbirth. We know these deaths are almost entirely preventable if girls have ways of avoiding becoming pregnant in the first place. For that they need education, appropriate healthcare and the support of their peers, family and community.
 
In many parts of the world, including here in the US, girls are pushed into mature relationships long before their bodies and minds are ready. Many have no choice or power over whether or not they become sexually active or pregnant. For many girls, becoming a mother is not a choice: it's something that happens to them by default. Many don't survive.
 
Even if they do come through their births safely, becoming a mother as a young girl or teen often means the end of their education, very limited job prospects and a future less rosy than the one they could have had. 

Sexual and reproductive education 

But there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
 
We know that girls today can be the generation that changes everything for tomorrow's mothers and their families. With access to safe, compassionate and age-appropriate healthcare, including sexual and reproductive education, girls can navigate the years between childhood and adulthood with their health and futures intact.
 
With a solid understanding about how their bodies work and how to keep them safe and healthy, plus a safety net of services to secure their future, girls can live the lives they dream of - where they grow up to be doctors and engineers, teachers and entrepreneurs and, maybe someday, mothers. 

Changing the world

If a girl can stay a girl for the entirety of her childhood, if she can spend her teenage years and early adulthood learning, growing and expanding her horizons, if she can choose whether or when to become a mother, then that girl can do anything.  
 
That's what girlhood is all about - pure potential. By investing in that potential - and supporting the Girl Declaration - we will see the world change for all of our girls and future mothers too.   
 
Find out more about Every Mother Counts
 
Read the goals of the Girl Declaration in full