Girls’ Education: A New Priority for the White House

14251280457_6e683c42fb_zThe White House launched an initiative Tuesday aimed at combating girls’ reduced access to education around the globe. Let Girls Learn will use $250 million from the federal government and other sources, including private-sector donations, to fund programs dedicated to improving girls’ educational opportunities.

Said President Obama in announcing the initiative:

Wherever they live, whoever they are, every girl on this planet has value. Every girl on this planet deserves to be treated with dignity and equality.  And that includes the chance to develop her mind and her talents, and to live a life of her own choosing, to chart her own destiny. That may be obvious to us, but we know it’s not obvious to everyone. Sixty-two million girls around the world who should be in school are not. That’s not by accident. It’s the direct result of barriers, large and small, that stand in the way of girls who want to learn.

Let Girls Learn is effectively an umbrella program for existing federal government initiatives focused on girls’ education. However, through First Lady Michelle Obama, Let Girls Learn is also partnering with the Peace Corps to work on the ground in communities where girls are too often denied an education.

The Peace Corps program will do three things: over the next six years, train community leaders in 11 countries to be advocates for girls’ education; fund projects that expand girls’ learning opportunities, such as building schools and launching technology camps; and train new Peace Corps Volunteers to champion girls’ learning initiatives around the world.

Other federal gender-related programs will receive new funding under Let Girls Learn, such as USAID’s Ethiopia initiative to end early, child and forced marriage. (See this blog post and the latest issue of Ms. magazine for more about child marriage in Ethiopia and elsewhere.) From the White House fact sheet on Let Girls Learn:

USAID is facilitating ‘community conversations’ with girls, their families and their community members [in Ethiopia] to discuss the effects of child, early and forced marriage and encourage them to build adolescent girls’ social, health and economic assets. Families are offered school supplies to help overcome the economic barriers to sending girls to school. And families who keep girls unmarried during the two-year program are awarded a sheep or a goat. An early evaluation of the project found that girls aged 10–14 in the experimental site were 90 percent less likely to be married at the end of the two-year program.

Said Obama,

I come to this issue as a concerned citizen, but also as the leader of the world’s largest economy, and the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military. And I’m convinced that a world in which girls are educated is a safer, more stable, more prosperous place.

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Photo courtesy of USAID on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons 2.0


  1. Hooray for girls! Women are people is such a radical idea in so many places. I watched India’s Daughter yesterday, as hard as it was to watch. Banned in India it reveals the misogyny of the cultural environment in India. Girls are given less food when they are small, girls have to eat last when they are small, in deference to their brothers. This teaches the brothers the girls are worth less, and they can do what they please with them.

    Thank you for helping to educate girls and women. I know that when women are fully recognized as people in this world, we will see a changed world in which we live. Fully recognizing the beauty, power and creative life force of women. After all, we are all born of our mothers. May we honor all the Mothers.

  2. Maurice Ekanem says:

    Nigeria holds the world record in the number of children that are out of school. According to statistics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, about 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria with the highest numbers coming from the northern part of the country. Records from UNICEF show that girls are particularly affected by the low uptake of education in Northern Nigeria. The gender gap remains particularly wide with the proportion of girls to boys in school ranging from 1 girl to 3 boys. Factors responsible for gaps in education in Nigeria like every other country experiencing this challenge include economic, cultural, traditional and religious. In northern Nigeria where gaps in education range between 70% – 89% across board; religion plays a major role. The recent insurgence of Boko Haram and their operational mantra is a clear indication that where education is not given its pride of place in society, we are bound to contend with vulnerabilities associated with the lack of economic power, influence, information, and assertiveness, especially for the girl-child.
    Implementing the Let Girls Learn project in Nigeria is deemed important for the survival of the country as a whole and the girl-child in particular. It is an established fact that education for the girl-child will go a long way to improve her literacy status; avail her access to economic and social opportunities; enhance her capacities and esteem at negotiation tables; while eliminating discriminations and negative cultural attitudes against her in society.
    Current threats posed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the carnage that have followed their operations calls for immediate, holistic, and concerted efforts in addressing the plight of the girl-child in northern Nigeria. This strategy will require various levels of interventions, including the United States Government, the international community, the Nigeria Government and affected communities. The intensity of existing needs therefore informs this request to consider Nigeria as one of the countries earmarked for the implementation of the Let Girls Learn project.
    Areas of leverage in Nigeria are:
    1. The existence of experienced and skilled USG supported implementing organizations working through local structures to build local capacities for sustainable project outcomes in northern Nigeria
    2. Availability of local policies that support and prioritize the implementation of girls-centered projects in education
    3. An enabling environment created in northern Nigeria as a result of the Nigeria Government’ recent intervention on the Boko Haram problem in northern Nigeria
    4. Presence of documentary evidence or extensive and substantial data to buttress the need for USG intervention in the area of education in northern Nigeria

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