SUISUN CITY, California — On March 9, 2021, just a day after International Women’s Day, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) reintroduced S. 634 in the 117th congressional session. It is entitled, “A bill to support and expand civic engagement and political leadership of adolescent girls around the world.” Sen. Collins says, “Despite comprising more than 50% of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision-making.” With the reintroduction of the Girls LEAD Act, Sen. Collins hopes to address this gap in politics as women and girls play an important part in global poverty reduction efforts.
The Girls Lead Act
The most recently introduced version of the Girls LEAD Act, S. 634, is the third of the identical bills moving to further gender equality around the world. Standing for Girls’ Leadership, Engagement, Agency and Development, legislators have proposed variations on the Girls LEAD Act annually since 2019. Sen. Susan Collins first proposed S. 2766 on Oct. 31, 2019, where it was co-sponsored by 11 other senators (8D, 3R) but it did not receive a vote.
Rep. David Trone introduced the second Girls LEAD Act, H.R. 6626, on April 24, 2020, with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers co-sponsoring the bill. The legislation, identical to the 2019 senate-proposed Girls LEAD Act, was sponsored by 45 representatives in total (39D, 6R), including the youngest female senator, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Unfortunately, the bill also failed to get a vote then.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) co-sponsored the latest bill (S.634) introduced by Sen. Collins on March 9, 2021. Several organizations are also in support of the reintroduction of the Girls LEAD Act. This includes ChildFund International, Save the Children and The Borgen Project.
The Role of Girls and Women
Sen. Cardin acknowledges the importance of empowering women in order to create lasting global change. He states that when communities give girls an opportunity to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives, inclusivity is achieved. Furthermore, Sen. Cardin states, “Empowering girls will lead to a generation of empowered women who have the tools to make their families and their countries better.”
The bill also illustrates how the impact of COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted girls and women. It points out that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed almost 743 million girls worldwide out of school, on top of the approximately 132 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 that were already out of school. Additionally, the bill states how the financial implications of COVID-19 put an additional 2.5 million girls at risk of child marriage between 2020 and 2025. The bill further explains that every 10 minutes, an adolescent girl dies as a consequence of violence. In essence, the Girls LEAD Act would combat the detriments that young women face with specific efforts to promote their leadership and empowerment.
The Directives of the Girls LEAD ACT
The Girls LEAD Act will serve as a policy for the meaningful engagement and empowerment of adolescent girls. It directs the Department of State and USAID to develop a strategy that would increase the inclusivity of girls in matters of democracy, human rights and governance. The bill also calls for the implementation of programs in order to achieve the goals set out by the Act. It further directs the allocation of funding to support these programs and strategies. Lastly, the bill calls for yearly reporting on strategies to better monitor progress.
The United Nations states, “Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential.” Only when girls and women are empowered and included can sustainable global change be achieved. The 2021 reintroduction of the Girls LEAD Act is a new attempt for gender parity because equality is key to all areas of societal progression, from education to poverty reduction.
– Alyssa Ranola