Here’s cause for some celebration: the potential of girls has been recognized by our highest office. “Even today, in too many parts of the world, girls are valued more for their bodies than for their minds,” President Obama recently said. “It’s not just antiquated, it’s not just bad strategy…it is just plain wrong, and we have to do more to stop it.” He made these remarks as part of the official launch of the Let Girls Learn Initiative, which aims to empower girls through education and address the barriers that prevent them from going to school. The initiative, included in the President’s Budget Request that was released in February, is a vast expansion of the public engagement campaign of the same name.
The launch was held at the White House with the First Lady, and also included remarks by Ambassador Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President. Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX) also made remarks on behalf of herself and Nita Lowey (D-NY), showing that this is one subject on which partisan politics have no place. Such high-level participation indicates that the Administration and those on the Hill are taking these issues seriously. This kind of political commitment is necessary now, and over the long term.
What’s especially notable about this new initiative is its “whole-of-government” approach, which calls for collaboration among different agencies to tackle the various challenges that keep girls from going to school. The difficult realities many adolescent girls face—child marriage, early pregnancy, gender-based violence in school and at home—will not be alleviated without tackling the issues at their roots. And these practices, which are entrenched in many traditions and cultures, will not be changed overnight. They also will not be conquered with one-off or one-sector solutions—meaning improving access to education will not solve all the problems adolescent girls face. We at IWHC believe that the approach that will make the biggest impact in the lives of adolescent girls around the world is one that engages the whole U.S. government and that addresses the whole lives of girls.
Confronting the barriers to education will be just as crucial as ensuring the existence of quality education itself. Even with newly trained teachers, better school buildings, and updated curricula, girls cannot benefit if they are among the 15 million married every year, the 16 million who give birth, or the thousands who die in childbirth. We hope that the new initiative addresses these problems head on, comes at them from various angles, and invests in policies and programs that reflect the lived realities of adolescent girls.
So, while we’re excited by the announcement and by the enthusiasm at the White House, we’re also ready to roll up our sleeves and work with our partners in the U.S. Government and in the global community to make sure that this initiative is fully implemented, by all agencies. The idea that everyone has a stake in ensuring adolescent girls are healthy, safe, educated, and empowered has to be institutionalized and put into practice, both within and beyond the Obama Administration. Let’s get to work!
Image: UN Photo/Tobin Jones