SEATTLE, Washington — The Girls’ Leadership, Engagement, Agency and Development Act of 2019, or the Girls LEAD Act, aims to support and expand the political leadership and civic engagement of adolescent girls around the world. The act would direct the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop and report to Congress a strategy to encourage increased participation of adolescents, particularly girls, in the promotion of human rights and the democratic process.
The Need for Girls’ Participation
As one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, noted that girls’ participation in politics makes democracies stronger, foreign aid programs more effective and countries around the world safer. Girls’ increased civic engagement means that more voices in society are heard and represented in government. Girls will also be empowered to seek leadership positions in the public and private sectors.
Such encouragement is needed in the world today. There is still a significant gap between girls’ and boys’ political participation. According to Save the Children, “girls are two times more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom,” and 132 million girls between the ages 6 and 17 worldwide are out of school.
This gender disparity in education contributes to barriers to political participation for girls. Other factors responsible for the gap in civic participation are the prevalence of child marriage, as every year 12 million girls under the age of 18 get married, and gender-based violence, as “every 10 minutes, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.”
The Girls LEAD Act
The act seeks to remedy these problems by promoting the inclusion of adolescent girls “in assuming leadership roles, holding decision makers to account and influencing decision making at the household, community and societal levels.”
Furthermore, the act states that it is U.S. policy to target foreign assistance programs, discourage discrimination against adolescent girls, promote the pursuit of programs that empower adolescent girls and help foster supportive environments for them.
According to the bill, both the Secretary of State and administrator of USAID should submit a joint report to Congress on a strategy to promote girls’ civic engagement and participation in democracy, human rights and governance.
The act also directs the State Department and USAID to implement programs and initiatives to increase girls’ participation and address the barriers to adolescent girls’ involvement in politics and democracy.
Status of the Bill
On April 24, 2020, Democratic Rep. David Trone of Maryland, introduced the bill H.R. 6626: Girls LEAD Act in the House, where the bill was then referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Girls LEAD Act, which currently has 14 co-sponsors (12D, 2R), is in the first stage of the legislative process. According to Skopos Labs, it has a 2% chance of being enacted.
Republican senior Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, introduced an identical version of this bill in the Senate on October 31, 2019. The Senate bill has seven cosponsors (4D, 3R) and was assigned to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. It is also in the first stage of the legislative process. According to Skopos Labs, this bill has a 3% chance of being enacted
The Girls LEAD Act promotes increased political participation among adolescent girls and the protection of their human rights around the world. To this end, the bill calls on the State Department USAID to implement programs to encourage political participation among teenage girls by fostering civic and political knowledge and skills.
Several international nonprofits, including Save the Children, ChildFund International, The Hunger Project, the National Association of Social Workers, Oxfam America and the International Action Network for Gender Equity and Law, support the bill.
If you would like to encourage your Congressional representatives to co-sponsor the Girls LEAD Act, visit The Borgen Project’s page on this bill, where you can find easy-to-follow steps to email or call your representatives.
– Sarah Frazer