Let Girls Learn: Obama's focus new initiative on empowering adolescents

A beneficiary of USAID's Advancing Youth Project, which provides increased access to quality education as well as social and leadership development for out-of-school youth. Let Girls Learn brings all girls' empowerment initiatives by different U.S. agencies under one umbrella. Photo by: USAID / CC BY-NC

The Peace Corps will train its current and future volunteers as well as thousands of community leaders to become champions of girls’ education and empowerment around the globe, as part of an integrated, global initiative that U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are announcing Tuesday.

Let Girls Learn brings all girls’ empowerment initiatives of the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Peace Corps and Millennium Challenge Corp. under one umbrella.

“This new effort will build on investments we have made and successes we have achieved in global primary school education, and expand them to help adolescent girls complete their education and pursue their broader aspirations,” said a White House press release.

Educating girls worldwide is a personal issue for Michelle Obama, according to her chief of staff Tina Tchen. During a conference call ahead of today’s announcement, Tchen reiterated the release’s note that the U.S. first lady has “heard firsthand about the power of community-based solutions to eliminate barriers to adolescent girls’ education around the world.”

Statistics indicate that 62 million girls around the world — half are adolescents — are not attending school, making them at risk of HIV and AIDS, various forms of violence and reduced future economic opportunities. With every year of secondary school education, a girl’s future wages are estimated to rise by 18 percent, according to a World Bank study.

At USAID, working to improve education among adolescent girls is nothing new, but the work is subsumed under primary and basic education programs. With Let Girls Learn, there’ll be some focus on adolescent girls and their needs and specific funding for the efforts, noted Susan Markham, senior coordinator for gender equality and women’s empowerment for USAID, during the conference call.

The USAID portion of the initiative will address three challenges:

▪ Increasing access to quality education, by providing safe access to schools for both students and teachers even during crises or conflict.
▪ Reducing barriers to education, including early pregnancy, malnutrition, gender-based violence, and tuition and other costs of attending school.
▪ Empowering adolescent girls by advancing their rights, training them to be leaders and providing them with financial and digital literacy.

Apart getting training on girls’ education and empowerment, Peace Corps volunteers will work with members of the communities where they are based to develop solutions that can remove the many barriers that prevent girls from attending school.

"We believe that every girl matters and when she's given an opportunity to learn, everyone in her life benefits." Carrie Hessler-Radelet, director of the Peace Corps, told reporters during the call.

For the first year, the Peace Corps portion of Let Girls Learn, which will work closely with the office of the U.S. first lady, will target 11 countries: Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda.

Several organizations have committed to partner with the Peace Corps for the initiative, some to to build the capacity of adolescent girls so they can be leaders and others to mobilize U.S. public support, including funding. They currently comprise the Brookings Institution, CARE, Girl Rising, Girl Scouts of the USA, Global Partnership for Education, National Peace Corps Association, PBS LearningMedia and United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up.

Apart from dedicating existing funding within agencies to the cause, the Obama administration will work with Congress to identify some $250 million in new and reallocated funds for girls’ education and other efforts to support adolescent girls worldwide, according to Tchen. It also expects “expanded support” under Let Girls Learn from the private sector, charitable foundations and other donors.

Individual donations are welcome as well. Hessler-Radelet noted that the Peace Corps has the capacity to accept donations through donate.peacecorps.gov.

“We'd like to see all Americans engaged in this,” she said.

How can we best empower adolescent girls? Share your insights by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.

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