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Girl Up UMD Gives Passionate Members Skills for the Future

Girl Up UMD, University of Maryland’s chapter of the United Nations Foundation campaign, focuses on helping their members develop leadership skills in order to prepare them for life after college.

When Girl Up first started, “it really, really focused on, education and barriers to education. Since then, it’s really branched out into leadership, education and health care, and basically, everything that a girl needs to be successful,” said president Abigail Landesman, a senior government and politics and theater double major

The chapter at the University of Maryland centers a lot of their meetings around unknown or unpublicized issues that can help them learn about the world and themselves, according to UMD Girl Up Vice President Renee Paulraj, a junior government and politics and information science double major.

Girl Up was founded in 2010 by the United Nations Foundation to help empower girls across the world. The foundation has 5,000 clubs in 130 countries, according to their website. The chapters help to teach their members advocacy, fundraising, storytelling and organizing.   

“I think what makes Girl Up special is that it’s focusing on a lot of issues that might be overlooked . . . for example, we had a member meeting on the missing and murdered indigenous women here in the United States. And we try to raise social awareness about topics that aren’t really heavily discussed in the media, even in social media or even in classes at UMD,” said Paulraj.

The chapter at the University of Maryland works each semester to help not only their members but also women in the community and throughout the world. 

They have had keynote speakers come in from the United Nations Population Fund and has run a panel with Professor Ruth Zambrana a professor in the Department of Women’s Studies, and Bonnie Thornton Dill, the College of Arts and Humanities Dean, ​​to discuss feminism, sexual identitiy and more, according to Paulraj. They also have helped the local community by doing projects like drives for menstrual health products.

The organization strives to teach their members to find their voice and learn how they can speak out, according to their president, Abigail Landesman, a senior government and politics and theater double major. Their connection to the worldwide Girl Up community allows their members to reach out past the College Park area to find other girls passionate about the same topics.

“It’s a really hands-on club and we always love to see more people and it’s a great way to enhance your advocacy skills,” said Landesman. 

In addition to advocacy, the club also focuses a lot of their time learning about social and economic opportunities and professional development for girls in developing countries. While they learn about these opportunities for these other girls, they are also learning how it applies to them in college and outside of college. They get to learn leadership skills, advocacy skills and fundraising skills that will help them in their future careers and lives.

“I​ care a lot about civil rights and human rights, and I kind of want to go into a field that works in one of those fields in the future,” said Paulraj. “So being able to learn about issues that are directly related to those rights is very informative for me as a person and it helped me grow as an individual.”

Katherine Mahoney is from Olney, Maryland and is studying at University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Katherine looks forward to gaining a more in-depth perspective on the field of journalism and hone her journalistic abilities in order to give voice to those who remain without in our ever-connected society.
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