WASHINGTON, D.C. — Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to an education. This is not always the case for many women and girls who are denied their right to a basic education based on gender in many nations. Fortunately, several members of Congress have signed on to support the passing of a bill that will ensure the protection of that human right. With increased bipartisan support, the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act shows promise of becoming law.
Also known as the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act, this legislation’s goal is to strengthen access to primary and secondary education for displaced children and people, specifically women and girls. It further encourages the U.S. government to make the education of children in areas of conflict a priority in its assistance efforts and directs the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase the access of displaced children — especially girls — to educational, economic and entrepreneurial opportunities.
To date, 26 Democrats and 13 Republicans have co-sponsored the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Two Democrats and one Republican support the bill in the Senate. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) introduced the bill to the House twice, once on July 12, 2016, and again on May 11, 2017. Rep. Chabot spoke with The Borgen Project about why the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act should become a law.
The Borgen Project: Why does the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act need to be passed?
Rep. Chabot: As a parent and former teacher, I firmly believe that education empowers our children. Unfortunately, with a staggering 65 million people around the world now displaced from their homes, it has become increasingly difficult for children in conflict zones to receive a primary or secondary education. By some estimates, there are as many as 30 million children living as refugees, of which approximately 20 million do not have access to a primary education.
A lack of an adequate education makes these children easier targets for the far too many criminal organizations that prey on vulnerable members of society, like terrorist groups and human trafficking networks. By increasing access to education, our legislation will help to stabilize the lives of these children, which will better protect them from those who would do them harm.
TBP: Why is the emphasis of the act on protecting displaced girls’ rights?
Rep. Chabot: The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, around the world, girls are disproportionately impacted by conditions that do not adequately protect children. A few years back, Senator Marco Rubio and I pushed legislation to emphasize the need to issue birth certificates in developing countries. What we found in that effort was that the majority of children who weren’t properly registered at birth were girls, which made it more difficult for those girls to fully participate in society. So, it is not surprising that a similar disparity exists with respect to educational opportunities.
There are approximately 62 million girls globally who aren’t in school, which makes these girls more vulnerable than they should be. By providing access to safe primary and secondary education, this legislation would help pave the way for a more peaceful and stable life for these girls, before they are subjected to further poverty, trafficking and recruitment into extremist organizations.
TBP: If passed, how will the legislation help girls in vulnerable settings?
Rep. Chabot: This legislation prioritizes the education of children in our efforts to help refugees, which helps girls in particular, as they are disproportionately impacted by the difficulty to obtain an education during periods of displacement. Specifically, the legislation encourages the U.S. government to make the education of children in areas of conflict a priority in their assistance efforts and directs the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase the access of displaced children, especially girls, to educational, economic, and entrepreneurial opportunities.
If passed, the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act has the potential to guarantee that 62 million girls have access to a safe, quality education despite ongoing conflict. The Borgen Project supports this bill and encourages others to help pass this impactful legislation.
– Jeanine Thomas