The energy in the room was palpable. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry took the stage with Ambassador Russell of the Office of Global Women’s Issues to launch the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls. As I sat in the third row with IWHC’s President, Françoise Girard, I couldn’t help but reflect on all that has gotten us to this point.
For those of you who follow IWHC closely, you know that we have been working with the U.S. Government for over two years to make the Strategy a reality. It started with the Violence Against Women’s Reauthorization Act of 2013, which mandated that the State Department develop an interagency strategy to end child marriage. Although it took a few years of hard work by IWHC and similar organizations as well as different agencies of the government, we now have a solid strategy to improve the lives and prospects of adolescent girls. What’s notable about the new plan is that it addresses all aspects of girls’ lives. It’s not just “whole-of-government,” it’s also “whole-of-girl,” meaning it looks at the myriad needs that girls have—from going to school, staying safe, developing life skills and self-esteem, and choosing if, when, and to whom they will marry.
Getting approval on this comprehensive approach was no small feat. In the past, we’ve had one-off programs, targeted one aspect of girls’ lives. After all, it’s human nature to look for silver bullets—to find the one thing that will change the world for the better and completely. The problem with silver bullets is that they almost never work—this is especially true for the lives of adolescent girls. Thankfully, the Strategy does not look for one. It recognizes the complexities of girls’ lives and the barriers they face.
The plan addresses both the root causes of these challenges, including gender inequality and harmful social and gender norms, and the damaging impact on girls, from child marriage and female genital mutilation to low high-school graduation rates and unplanned pregnancy. Real evidence-based solutions are presented, from providing comprehensive sexuality education to providing safe school environments to working with parents to convince them to wait to marry their daughters off. IWHC is a co-chair of Girls Not Brides USA, and because we’ve seen the damage child marriage does, we’re particularly pleased that ending this practice is a key focus.
By emphasizing that the whole government needs to be involved to tackle such problems, the Administration is helping to ensure the “whole-of-girl” approach will actually happen. Often work that concentrates on women and girls has been seen as the purview of the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. But by tying this Strategy to other priorities—such as peace and security, education, and HIV/AIDS—people across the government, from a range of sectors, will be working to improve the lives of adolescent girls.
This is truly an exciting time to be working for girls’ rights and health. When President Obama and the First Lady announced Let Girls Learn last year, it brought much needed attention to the challenges girls face every day. (The initiative now has a fabulous theme song!) It’s critical that we galvanize political will to move these efforts forward. From the highest halls of power to regular citizens, improving the lives of girls is a growing concern. But to make sure that this excitement results in real changes, we need this new comprehensive strategy along with long-term commitment from our leaders—no matter which administration is leading us.
So as we celebrate this success, we have to make sure that the words don’t just stay on the page but are put into action. We look to the White House to lead the way and to put resources behind this promising new blueprint for improving the lives of girls worldwide.
Join us in thanking the Administration and calling on our leaders to fully implement the Strategy. Here are some suggested tweets:
Thank you @BettyMcCollum04 for championing girls’ rights and support for Girl Strategy! http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/254904.pdf #Lead4Girls
Thank you @SenatorDurbin for championing girls’ rights and support for Girl Strategy! #Lead4Girls http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/254904.pdf
Adolescent Girl Strategy looks at the whole girl: her education, health, empowerment, safety, agency-critical 2 change gender norms!
Adolescent Girl Strategy is multiple govt agencies-@whitehouse @statedept @usaid @MCCgov @peacecorps-working together to #Lead4Girls!
Thank you @statedept @johnkerry @AmbCathyRussell 4 working closely w/advocates, CSOs 2 make Adolescent Girl Strategy a reality! #Lead4Girls
Thank you @statedept for Adolescent Girl Strategy. We now look to @POTUS @WhiteHouse for leadership to make it a reality! #Lead4Girls
New Adolescent Girl Strategy is the blueprint for next @WhiteHouse on how to #Lead4Girls. http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/254904.pdf