Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues

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“Let Girls Learn” – A U.S. and Japan Initiative Promoting Education for Girls Across the Globe

Suzanne de Deyne

Last year the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), launched a public engagement campaign entitled, “Let Girls Learn” to promote an increase in access to quality education and ensure successful empowerment for girls.[1]  To date, USAID has donated one billion dollars in education programs, over 35 million in textbooks and other teaching materials in a single year, and helped train over 300,000 teachers worldwide.[2]  The clear take-away message from this initiative is that when girls have the opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence to break the cycle of poverty, raise healthier families, and help build their communities everyone benefits.

Let Girls Learn

Unfortunately, 62 million girls around the world are not in school.[3]  Half of these girls are adolescents.[4]  The gender gap among adolescents persists because it is at this age that girls are often first subject to the cultural values and practices that define and limit the prospects of women in their societies.[5]  Pressure to marry, dangerous commutes to school, education fees, lack of access to healthcare, and fear of speaking out are all factors contributing to the gender divide.  To address this concern, First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced a joint effort with Akie Abe, wife of Japan’s prime minister, to advance the “Let Girls Learn” initiative and help educate girls across the globe.[6]

To build momentum for the “Let Girls Learn” campaign, the First Lady teamed up with the Peace Corps.  The partnership will initially target eleven countries and focus on three main pillars – empowering leaders, working hand in hand, and increasing impact.[7]  A collaboration with multiple nations and an international service organization of the United States, is important for this campaign because it recognizes that the education gender gap is a global challenge, but its root causes are often local, and therefore call for local solutions.[8]  Because “Let Girls Learn” is a community-focused initiative, solutions to gender and girls’ education issues will be devised by local leaders, families, and girls themselves.[9]

Let Girls Learn 2

Peace Corps volunteers will work to develop locally based education programs, from leadership camps to mentoring projects.[10]  Research indicates that every additional year of education can increase a girl’s earning power by ten to twenty percent[11] and girls with secondary schooling are up to six times less likely to marry as children when compared to girls who have little to no education.[12]  In sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, almost 60% fewer girls would become pregnant if they had a secondary education.[13]  Furthermore, sending more girls to school leads to an overall boost in a country’s economy.”[14]

The programs built under the “Let Girls Learn” initiative address education in the broad sense of the word. Education includes more than just academic education; it focuses on empowerment and leadership, health and nutrition, gender-based violence, forced marriage, and the benefit of bilateral and multilateral partnerships. Below are some specific projects, which started under USAID and will continue to be promoted under the new comparative partnership between the U.S. and Japan, directly changing the lives of adolescent girls:

  • Advancing Youth Project (AYP): Young girls, mostly young mothers, in Liberia are given out-of-school opportunity to build a better life through quality alternative basic education services, such as social development and leadership training for those who are unschooled or have marginal literacy and numeracy skills. To date, the project has reached 500 adolescent girls and aims to reach 2,800 by the end of 2016.[15]
  • Girls Opportunities to Access Leaning Plus program (GOAL): Works to “improve the enrollment, attendance and retention of 7,000 primary school girls across 60 schools [in Liberia] through scholarship packages, school supplies, hygiene kits and parent-teacher capacity building.” In all 60 schools, mentoring, tutoring, gender responsiveness training, and library resources are also included in the program. The EQUAL Program takes this one step further because it piloted mother-tongue, English, and family literacy activities where gender based violence in schools is discussed to educate the community in identifying ways to make schools safer for learning.[16]
  • Girls Empowerment through Education and Health Activity (ASPIRE): Works with over 125,000 adolescent girls in Malawi to improve education and health outcomes by improving the reading skills of girls, providing clean water, toilet facilities, feminine hygiene products, and encourages the adoption of positive health behaviors.[17]
  • Best School for Girls: Helped a young girl in Bangladesh avoid an arranged marriage, in part because her parents could not afford her education, because when she informed her school of this campaign they offered to bring her back to school for free.[18]
  • Sisterhood is Global Institute: Program located in Jordan that assists civil society by reducing the number of discriminatory national laws and regulations that affect women and girls, specifically focusing on banning forced marriage under 18 and providing legal precedence to prosecute rape in the context of marriage.[19]

Let Girls Learn 3

Education is one of the most critical areas of empowerment for women.  Education for girls is education for all because when girls are educated, public health concerns diminish and prosperity, especially to both national and global economies, thrives.  Education generates opportunity and independence.  Many of the adolescent girls where “Let Girls Learn” programs are in place have the spirit to learn. These programs simply provide them with the power to learn. When girls are educated, they lead healthier and more productive lives.  Some of these girls “walk miles each day to school, study for hours each night, and stand strong against those who say they are unworthy of an education.”[20]  If they are prepared to make these sacrifices, the global community must continue to provide the resources through this initiative and ensure adolescent girls get the education they deserve.  It is time to Let Girls Learn.

Suzanne De Deyne is a second year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (candidate for J.D., May 2016) concentrating in International Law. Suzanne graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Economics. She also received a Honor’s International Relations Certificate from Mount Holyoke College.

Currently, Suzanne is a staff editor on the Journal of International Law and represents the International Law Society as the Alumni Relations Director. As a CICL Fellow, Suzanne conducts legal research for International Rights Advocates on human rights and corporate accountability. She is also a member of Phi Alpha Delta and the Women’s Bar Association. This summer she will be a legal intern at Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in the firm’s Brussels office, which is focused on Competition Law practice in Europe.

[1] Let Girls Learn, USAID, http://www.usaid.gov/letgirlslearn [hereinafter USAID] (last visited Mar. 26, 2015).

[2] USAID, supra note 1.

[3] Let Girls Learn, White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/letgirlslearn (last visited Mar. 26, 2015).

[4] Let Girls Learn, supra note 3.

[5] Michelle Obama, Let’s Ensure That Every Girl Can Learn, Wall St. J. , Mar. 15, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/michelle-obama-lets-ensure-that-every-girl-can-learn-1426458404.

[6] Obama, supra note 4.

[7] Let Girls Learn, Peace Corps, https://letgirlslearn.peacecorps.gov (last visited Mar. 26, 2015).

[8] Obama, supra note 4.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] USAID, supra note 1.

[13] Id.

[14] Obama, supra note 4.

[15] USAID, supra note 1.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Obama, supra note 4.