WASHINGTON — Let Girls Learn is Michelle Obama’s enduring campaign to empower adolescent girls through quality education. Ninety-eight million adolescent girls in the world are not allowed to attend school. The former first lady recognized this as a “heartbreaking loss,” and a travesty so compelling she had to take action.
A quarter of a billion girls live in poverty. In the developing world, one in every nine girls is married by age 15. Millions more are subjected to genital mutilation and violence while countless are infected with HIV. Research shows that when adolescent girls are empowered with quality education, they can achieve financial stability, better nutrition, and health, and ensure the same for future generations of young women.
Obama launched her campaign, Let Girls Learn, in March 2015, to facilitate better access to education by addressing the global issues that prevent girls from getting a quality education. The campaign focuses on investing in schools in crisis areas and promoting gender equality. Obama also believes that by raising awareness and nurturing leadership potential, young women have a better chance at higher education.
The Let Girls Learn campaign has been successful in developing critical partnerships to empower adolescent girls by collaborating with six U.S. government agencies including the Department of State (DOS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
So far, the campaign has raised more than a billion dollars across 50 countries. Learning centers in northern Nigeria help empower adolescent girls displaced by war and other crises; the Girls Empowerment Movement in Zimbabwe and the Global Give Back Circle in Kenya also inspire girls to finish school, gain employment and help their peers. All of these inter-agency initiatives have been made possible by the Let Girls Learn campaign.
Japan has committed $340 million towards education programs to empower adolescent girls in partnership with the U.S. In June 2015, the Department for International Development (DFID) in the United Kingdom and USAID committed £36 million and $125 million respectively towards accelerated educational programs for young girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 755,000 adolescent girls stand to benefit from this partnership initiative. The DFID also dedicated about £10 million to a study of advocacy platforms for educating women.
In October 2015, Let Girls Learn and USAID committed to working with Pakistan’s government by investing $70 million in educating more than 200,000 adolescent girls. In November 2015, Let Girls Learn and the USAID also invested $100 million in 25 schools in Jordan. John Kerry, then-U.S. Secretary of State, launched the first U.S. global strategy to empower adolescent girls in March 2016. In April 2016, the World Bank committed an additional $2.5 billion to fund education programs for adolescent girls.
In Afghanistan, a lack of female teachers in combination with cultural norms mandating female instructors limits girls’ access to quality education. The USAID and Let Girls Learn partnered with DFID to combat this issue by investing $25 million towards teacher training programs there.
The 2016 International Day of the Girl was commemorated with the release of the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls. Michelle Obama’s advocacy efforts to raise awareness contributed to its incredible support and momentum. One hundred private sector companies have invested more than five million dollars to support the campaign. She appealed to a diverse demographic with participation in events such as Edelman’s social media campaign, #62milliongirls and the show Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. She even launched a song, “This Is For My Girls”, which supported the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Fund.
In 2016, Obama, Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto and Isha Sesay traveled to Liberia and Morocco to meet with adolescent girls living in poverty. Their extraordinary resilience and resolve were captured in the CNN film, “We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World.” She also hosted “Broadway Shines a Light on Girls’ Education” in New York in honor of three young women from Pakistan, Malawi and Jordan. Their personal experiences of hardship and remarkable achievement inspired everyone as they advocated for themselves and their comrades in the fight for education.
Obama’s efforts have helped millions of girls into life-changing education. Let Girls Learn is Obama’s enduring legacy. In her final speech as First Lady, she spoke directly to young people saying, “Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise.”
– Preeti Yadav