March 15, 2016

Washington, D.C.—Today the State Department released the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, the first of its kind to focus on girls worldwide and the myriad challenges they face. The Strategy sets a framework to improve girls’ education, health, and economic prospects. It takes a “whole-of-government” approach and involves several agencies of the government, including:  the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Peace Corps, and Millennium Challenge Corporation. An interagency effort, it is designed to outlive the Obama administration.

The fact that the government is taking this kind of comprehensive approach, as it does with issues such as climate change and global security, underscores that adolescent girls have become a foreign policy priority. At the launch event this morning, Secretary of State John Kerry stated, “I believe that equitable treatment of women and girls is, and always must be, a core tenet of America’s global leadership.”

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), co-chair of Girls Not Brides USA, has been actively advocating for such a wide-ranging strategy for the last few years.

“This strategy sends a clear signal that the U.S. is putting girls at the center of global affairs and seeing them as whole beings, instead of thinking piecemeal about their lives and needs,” said Françoise Girard, President of IWHC.  “The government is also acknowledging the complex realities of girls’ lives, targeting gender inequality, harmful social norms, and the low value and expectations of girls that keep them from thriving.”

IWHC particularly welcomes the key focus on advancing the sexual and reproductive health of girls and meeting their rights. There is a strong call to empower girls, change harmful norms, and end practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation. Millions of girls around the world are forced to marry before the age of 18, putting them at increased risk of dangerous child births, unsafe abortions, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. If they marry young they are also more likely to be pulled out of school.

Secretary Kerry declared that $40 million from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief DREAMS Innovation Challenge will be put towards helping girls access and remain in secondary school. He also announced a $7 million initiative to empower girls and eliminate child marriage in Afghanistan by changing perceptions in communities. Another priority will be expanding comprehensive sexuality education globally, as many girls have limited knowledge about their bodies or their rights.

Now that the plan has been established, implementation is critical. “We have the blueprint to a world where adolescent girls are educated, healthy, economically and socially empowered, and can live free from violence,” said Ms. Girard. “The next step is to make sure the different agencies do their part and coordinate their efforts so we can achieve it.”