Two weeks ago, I posted a United Nations report on the increasing frequency of attacks on girls’ education around the world and called on the U.S. government to increase investment in education abroad. The White House, it seems, was thinking along the same lines, and on Tuesday they announced a new initiative titled Let Girls Learn.
On Wednesday, I hosted a roundtable with Tina Tchen, assistant to the president, chief of staff to the first lady, and executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, to discuss the new program and the challenge of increasing girls’ access to education. Having been inspired by a meeting with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai when she came to Washington, DC, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama personally announced the initiative at the White House the day before our event.
The Let Girls Learn initiative focuses on community-based programs to eliminate the barriers to education adolescent girls face. This is smart: as I’ve written before, educating girls has positive implications for a country’s growth and stability. Plus, supporting local initiatives is the most effective strategy the United States can pursue. Not only does support for these community-based efforts help the U.S. government avoid accusations of exporting “Western feminism,” but it also ensures that strategies are specific to countries, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
Yet there is an inherent challenge in supporting community-based initiatives: how can the United States generate large-scale change in the lives of girls around the world by only focusing on small-scale, local programs?
Let Girls Learn aims to leverage a variety of organizations across the U.S. government, in addition to international organizations and NGOs, to address this challenge. For example, the program taps Peace Corps volunteers, a large force of individuals each with a narrower, community focus, to train local leaders in establishing education programs for girls. The initiative also connects community leaders with national-level civil society groups through the Global Partnership for Education, channels investments from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, U.S. Agency for International Development, and State Department to education programs, and creates connections between local activists.
Furthermore, as Let Girls Learn is launching, First Lady Michelle Obama will be traveling to Japan and Cambodia. Japan’s first lady, Akie Abe, is also a strong supporter of girls’ education, and Japan is a partner in this important work.
The project could further empower local programs by combining the monitoring and evaluation data that is already conducted through these agencies, highlighting those programs that are most successful in various contexts, and making those resources easily accessible to community groups. Beyond connecting these local leaders, this would provide them with additional strategies for increasing girls’ access to education in their communities.
Supporting local initiatives across the world is a daunting project, but one that is critical for removing the barriers to girls’ education. The Let Girls Learn initiative is a positive step for the U.S. government to empower girls and women, and, in turn, promote economic growth and stability around the world.