Around the world, there are over 62 million girls who are not in school. More than half of these girls are adolescents. Girls’ education is vital for the future strength and stability of countries around the world. A World Bank study shows that for every year a girl receives secondary schooling, her future earning power grows by 18%. Providing girls with a secondary education also lowers both infant and maternal mortality rates and reduces the incidence of HIV/AIDS. Despite these benefits many young girls, particularly adolescents, are faced with many cultural, economic, and/or religious barriers that make receiving this education difficult if not impossible.
“Let Girls Learn” is a government-wide initiative spearheaded by Michelle Obama that builds off a United States Agency for International Developy (USAID) campaign meant to expand education opportunities for girls worldwide, particularly at the secondary level.
“Let Girls Learn” is a grassroots initiative that will rely on local leaders and communities to help break down the barriers to education for girls and establish programs to accomplish this goal. By partnering with the Peace Corps, this initiative will build off of programs, initiatives, and partnerships that have already been established by volunteers around the world. Volunteers will start by focusing on communities in 11 countries and will receive special training in how to positively engage local leaders and assist them in establishing effective programs. Through the use of local leadership, barriers to girls’ education can be broken down gradually and in a positive, lasting manner. As the initiative gains traction, it will expand into other countries in which Peace Corps is active.
In addition to working with Peace Corps, USAID will continue to support and work with other international and local organizations working to expand girls’ education and women’s rights in other sectors. As with the Peace Corps partnership, USAID will work with these organizations to expand existing programs and initiatives.
This initiative is very broad in nature and is difficult to discuss with any specificity. Despite this, the initiative is very well structured for a number of reasons.
Connecting with Communities Through Peace Corps
Peace Corps is an organization that sends volunteers into communities around the world to achieve a wide range of developmental goals. Since volunteers are working to improve conditions in actual communities where issues exist, a major tenant of the organization is that communities themselves must agree to welcome in the assistance. In other words, Peace Corps volunteers only operate in areas where the assistance is wanted and supported by the local community at some level. This is vital to the success of Peace Corps missions as barriers can only be permanently removed by the people who built them, not forced down by an outside force.
The ‘grassroots’ nature of the Peace Corps and its initiatives fits in well with the “Let Girls Learn” mission. Through this partnership, “Let Girls Learn” can not only take advantage of existing local relationships, it can also access and work to expand programs that have already been established and are successful rather than starting from scratch. Peace Corps volunteers are also more aware of what the specific barriers to girls’ education exist in their communities and can more effectively create or tailor programs to address them. This saves a lot of the time and resources it would have taken to research these communities to figure out their specific needs and how best to address them.
Focusing on Local Needs and Goals
Though “Let Girls Learn” has one ultimate goal (increase education opportunities for girls worldwide), it does not dictate specific policies/plans that should be used in all areas where it is being carried out. Instead, the initiative provides financial support and tools that empower volunteers to create effective plans that meet the needs of specific communities. The barriers to education girls face differ from country to country and even from community to community. As a result, the plan for one community/country will not necessarily be effective in another. Though general plans exist for each country, there are no stringent policies that define what should be achieved and/or how to achieve it.
Focusing on Secondary Education
If there are not more barriers for adolescent girls trying to get an education, then existing barriers definitely become more stringent for this age group. Despite their young age, adolescent girls are treated as being ‘adult’ in many ways and are often held to ‘adult’ standards. It is not enough for girls just to start school, they must be able to stay in school. By focusing on providing secondary level education, “Let Girls Learn” addresses the more stringent and damaging barriers head on.
Let Girls Learn Fact Sheet: Fact sheet about the initiative created by the White House.
Peace Corps Page: The Let Girls Learn webpage on the Peace Corps site. This disusses the general goals of the initiative and gives some examples of Peace Corps’s efforts.
White House Page: The Let Girls Learn webpage on the White House site. This source provides links to the major organizations participating in this effort along with a short description of how they are contributing.
USAID Page: The Let Girls Learn webpage through the USAID site. This page talks about specific initiatives in each country where the initiative is operating. This page also provides information about educating girls in general and the progress of the initiative so far.