President Obama Puts Improving the Lives of Girls Worldwide on the Agenda

Released last week, President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 is getting a lot of attention. But what’s not really being talked about is the good news in there for girls around the world. Once you wade through the 150 pages of the budget, the nearly 200 pages of Budget Justification for the State Department funding, and the over 1300 pages of appendices, you find that the President has prioritized adolescent girls in a way we haven’t seen before.

In fact, for the first time, the President has laid the groundwork to use a “whole-of-government” approach—which will require collaboration across agencies—to realize the rights and fulfill the needs of adolescent girls around the world. This is exactly the type of approach IWHC has been advocating for. Through a whole-of-government approach, it is possible to take a “whole-of-girl” approach that fulfills all of the needs and rights of girls, including: education, health, empowerment, safety, and agency.

In the budget request, the President includes $250 million for an initiative called Let Girls Learn that incorporates the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and even the Office of the First Lady, and calls for an expansion of the current program that can more fully coordinate across all of the U.S. government’s development, humanitarian, and diplomatic departments. In the budget request, the President identified some issues that prevent a girl from going to school—like safety concerns and ill health—but did not necessarily call out all of the obstacles she faces, including gender discrimination, child marriage, and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services. IWHC will be working with all of the agencies involved to ensure the initiative addresses the myriad factors that keep girls out of school. As we know, it’s not just about building a school house and a road, and then all problems are solved. We need to address both the immediate and the longer-term, more deep-rooted, challenges to girls education and empowerment.

Positive momentum was already building around supporting girls. Catherine Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, announced last year that her office was developing an Adolescent Girls Strategy. But the President’s endorsement of a whole-of-government approach is powerful and shows the kind of political will that is necessary to make meaningful and sustainable change. The President is making it clear that the Administration understands that improving the lives and prospects of adolescent girls is vital to global peace and development. It also ensures that more governmental staff see it as their job to make sure girls are empowered, healthy, safe, and educated.

While this is by no means the final say, with heated and long negotiations likely to take place in Congress, it is an important indicator of what the priorities of the Administration will be moving forward. We are excited to see that the lives of adolescent girls are being prioritized at the highest levels of the U.S. government. It is crucial that this type of political will continues to be shown through rhetoric and action, and we look to Congress to show the same leadership by including this work when it is their turn to create and vote on the budget.

Image: Mattis Gutsche/The Noun Project (girl), Martha Ormiston/The Noun Project (Congress)

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