CHANHASSEN, Minnesota — Congressional leaders reintroduced the Keeping Girls in School Act of 2021 for consideration in the 117th Congress on June 24, 2021. The bipartisan bill aims to eliminate gender disparities in access to education, which would have significant positive effects on global development. The passage of the bill has become even more vital since its first introduction due to the consequences of the pandemic on education.
The Keeping Girls in School Act
Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) together reintroduced S. 2276: Keeping Girls in School Act in the Senate while Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Congressman Michael Waltz (R-FL) reintroduced the House version, H.R. 4134. The 2021 Act follows the main goals of the previous 116th Congress’s S. 1071: Keeping Girls in School Act. The Act aims to direct U.S. assistance toward girls’ education and empowerment. It addresses numerous barriers to education that disproportionately affect female students, including child marriage, HIV infection, social customs and safety issues.
The newest version of the bill also acknowledges the severe negative consequences of school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNESCO and the Global Education Coalition, 130 million girls did not attend school prior to COVID-19. However, the adverse effects of the pandemic left an additional 743 million out of school throughout its duration. UNESCO also estimates that 11 million girls will not go back to school due to interruptions to their education, making them vulnerable to violence and early marriage.
Should the bill pass, USAID would implement innovative technologies and “ensure that schools provide safe and quality educational opportunities and create empowering environments” so that girls can obtain a secondary education despite any obstacles. Moreover, USAID would track the progress of its initiatives through a “monitoring and evaluation” program in order to determine its effectiveness in eliminating inequalities in education.
The bill would have significant effects on the advancement of women’s rights. A key section of the Keeping Girls in School Act of 2021 requires the Department of State to “update a United States global strategy to empower adolescent girls” every five years, deriving from the original strategy introduced in the 2016 Act. The Department of State would collaborate with governmental agencies, NGOs and congressional committees to create the most effective approach to promote young girls and prioritize their education and safety.
Past Congressional Efforts
Sen. Shaheen originally introduced the Keeping Girls in School Act to the Senate as S. 1171 on May 18, 2017, during the 115th Congress. Rep. Frankel later introduced the companion bill to the House on October 9, 2018, as H.R. 7055. The bill was referred to both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was cosponsored by 11 House representatives. However, there were no cosponsors in the Senate and neither chamber passed the bill during that term.
Rep. Frankel and Sen. Shaheen reintroduced an identical bill on April 9, 2019, in the 116th Congress as H.R. 2153 and S. 1071. On January 28, 2020, the House passed the Act to in House with 116 cosponsors, including 87 Democrats and 29 Republicans. Unfortunately, the bill did not advance to the next stage as the Senate never approved it before the 116th Congress concluded on January 3, 2021.
The updated 2021 legislation includes mentions of the effects of the pandemic and omits references to the financing of projects included in earlier versions. Despite the past multiple attempts to pass the bill, widespread bipartisan support for the bill in the House during the previous Congress term presents a hopeful trend for the Keeping Girls in School Act of 2021.
The Future of the Bill
The Keeping Girls in School Act would be a great victory in the fight against global poverty and gender inequality. According to the International Center for Research on Women, enrolling all girls in school for at least 12 years would increase the earnings of women around the world by more than $15 trillion, stimulating economic growth as these earnings are invested back into the community. Additionally, UNICEF reports that investing in girls’ education also reduces rates of early marriage, child and maternal mortality and protects the welfare of young girls.
In a 2019 press release, Sen. Shaheen highlighted the Act’s ability to lift countries out of poverty. “Breaking down barriers that prevent girls around the world from accessing quality education is both a moral obligation and an important U.S. foreign policy priority,” said Sen. Shaheen. “When girls are educated and empowered, we see the ripple effect in the development of their communities and success of their economies.”
The bill, which was introduced in both legislative chambers, must be released by their respective committees and must also receive a majority vote in the House and then the Senate to pass. If passed, the bill would advance to the president to veto or sign into law.
In the wake of the pandemic, the Keeping Girls in School Act is urgently needed to account for the additional challenges COVID-19 has placed on educational opportunities for girls. The bill supports female empowerment and gender parity in secondary education, both of which would have immense effects on global development. Those who wish to support the Act can write, email or call their representatives asking them to cosponsor the bill and mobilize others to contact their own leaders. Individuals can also attend congressional events or arrange a meeting to speak with a representative about the Keeping Girls in School Act to express their support.
– Sarah Stolar