The 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.
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.