LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. — United States President Barack Obama once said, “The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women.” This quote has frequently been used as a foray into a larger conversation; a conversation about women’s rights and the necessity of female empowerment worldwide. This international dialogue has spanned topics from the inexcusable nature of rape and abuse to discrepancies in equal pay and employment. Many world leaders, historians, anthropologists,and economists have agreed: when women succeed, society succeeds. And the indisputably best way for women to succeed is to give them access to education. Let them learn!
In June, a coalition of artists, NGOs and private corporations joined forces with the U.S. government to promote a new international initiative called “Let Girls Learn.” The program was spearheaded by a group of 30 celebrities. Leveraging their recognizable faces, they created a two minute clip calling for the universal installment of female education.
The video message was released several days ago by U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID,) and spread swiftly across social media. The video drop was rapidly followed by USAID’s announcement that they would be diverting $231.6 million for new programs to support “primary and secondary education and safe learning in Nigeria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Jordan, as well as support for Guatemala’s ongoing, successful efforts to improve quality of education for under-served populations.”
“Let Girls Learn” is part of USAID’s ongoing effort to support universal child education. USAID spends around $1 billion in educational programs annually, and has successfully worked alongside the Peace Corps, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of State. This recent development of USAID’s education focus comes in response to the increasing international scrutiny surrounding treatment of women. Examples of such include unsuccessful handling of rape cases in India, school kidnappings in Nigeria and shootings in Pakistan.
As women have stood and raised their voices against the violation of their basic rights, they have been beaten back in an increasingly brutal fashion. And the world is beginning to realize that they have a responsibility to the 62 million girls worldwide who have been denied the human right of access to basic education. USAID released a set of statistics to emphasize its message: “One more year of education increases a woman’s income by up to 25 percent. A girl who has a basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV. Children born to educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of 5.” The list goes on in an expected fashion.
But beyond the simple acknowledgement that educated women do better in society, it is important to note that these girls deserve better. They deserve to stand toe to toe with their male counterparts and demonstrate their intelligence, passion and potential. In conjunction with dozens of nonprofit organizations, USAID will use this $231.6 million dollars to build schools, endow scholarship funds, employ emergency education in refugee camps and much more. On an even more important scale, however, USAID intends to work with national and local governments to make sure that the changes are long-term and permanent.
The world has reached an intriguing crossroads where females are surpassing males in numbers of college graduates. Women worldwide have learned how to utilize social media and the press to bring attention to the issues directly impacting them. And this program, “Let Girls Learn,” is just the beginning of an international push to acknowledge that violence toward women is not acceptable and that barring women from education is not acceptable.