There’s an African proverb which says “educate a man and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a nation”. The notion is that when a girl is educated, especially in the developing world, she is more likely to allow her education to benefit those around her than men.
The stories of girls being stopped by terrorists and extremists from getting an education has only made the world fight harder for their right to be educated. This was spurred on largely by education activist Malala Yousafzai, the world’s young Nobel Peace Prize winner who was shot in the head simply for advocating the benefits of girls being educated in her home country Pakistan.
Worldwide it is estimated that nearly 62 million girls are not currently in school. Primary school completion rates for girls in third world countries lies below 50%. Girls are not seen as a great investment, especially in poverty stricken areas, so the percentages of child marriages, sex slavery and prostitution becomes much higher.
The American government wants to change these statistics and has launched a campaign called ‘Let Girls Learn‘ in conjunction with the Peace Corps and USAID to target 11 countries in the fight for gender equal education rights.
“This program will address that challenge by empowering local leaders to put lasting solutions in place. Peace Corps Volunteers who live and work at the grassroots level will serve as catalysts of community-led change, and every American can get involved and make a difference,” says the website.
The White House is pledging $250 million in funding as well as money from other private-sector donators to fund programs that aid third world countries in educating young girls. Together with the Peace Corps, they aim to do this in three key areas:
1. By empowering leaders.
2. By working hand in hand with communities, and
3. By increasing the impact of the Peace Corps volunteers.
The campaign will be rolled out over the next 6 years in countries such as Albania, Cambodia, Ghana, Moldova, Uganda, and more.
President Barack Obama together with First lady Michelle Obama launched the campaign in yet another display of how the current administration is placing emphasis on the need to empower girls worldwide in order to create a global economy in the future that benefits 100% of the population.
“This really should not be complicated. Wherever they live, whoever they are, every girl on this planet has value. Every girl on this planet deserves to be treated with dignity and equality. And that includes the chance to develop her mind and her talents, and to live a life of her own choosing, to chart her own destiny. That may be obvious to us, but we know it’s not obvious to everyone. Sixty-two million girls around the world who should be in school are not. That’s not by accident. It’s the direct result of barriers, large and small, that stand in the way of girls who want to learn,” said President Obama in a video statement made (below).
“In some cases, their families can’t afford the school fees. In some cases, the only local school doesn’t have a girls’ restroom. Maybe the risk of being hurt or kidnapped or killed by men who will do anything to stop girls from learning is just too great. Maybe girls aren’t in school because they’re expected to get married and become mothers while they’re still teens — or even earlier. Even today, in too many parts of the world, girls are valued more for their bodies than for their minds. That’s not just antiquated. It’s not just a bad strategy for any country that’s serious about growing their economy or promoting stability. It is just plain wrong. And we have to do more to stop it,” he continued.
He also emphasized the importance of America leading the charge in this kind of initiative, and why it is a topic that should be tackled by politicians and world leaders.
“And just to be clear, I come to this issue as a concerned citizen, but also as the leader of the world’s largest economy, and the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military. And I’m convinced that a world in which girls are educated is a safer, more stable, more prosperous place. From a political standpoint, and a security standpoint, places where women and girls are treated as full and equal citizens tend to be more stable, tend to be more democratic. So this is not just a humanitarian issue. This is an economic issue and it is a security issue. And that’s why it has to be a foreign policy priority. ”
First lady Michelle Obama also shared some thoughts on why she is spearheading this campaign.
“I want our kids to understand the transformative power of education…how a good education can lift you from the most humble circumstances into a life you never could have imagined. I see our daughters in these girls. And like all of you, I just can’t walk away from them. Like you, I can’t just sit back and accept the barriers that keep them from realizing their promise. So I know that I want to use my time and my platform as First Lady and beyond to make a real impact on this issue,” she said.
“Everywhere I go, I meet these girls, and they are so fiercely intelligent, and hungry to make something of themselves. These girls are our change-makers — our future doctors and teachers and entrepreneurs. They’re our dreamers and our visionaries who could change the world as we know it.”
She also mentioned meeting Malala Yousafzai and how this young champion for change is the first person to admit she is not unique in her mission. That there are millions of girls just like her but who don’t have a father championing the cause of her education and who don’t have the opportunities she now has as a well-known figure.
If you are interested in learning more in depth about the Let Girls Learn initiative and the research undertaken to roll out this campaign, click here for the White House report.
You can watch the full speech from the President and the First Lady below, and click here to find out how you can get involved in ‘Let Girls Learn’.