This week, the President and First Lady announced Let Girls Learn, a new whole-of-government initiative that will support adolescent girls around the world. Building on USAID education programs that reach more than a million adolescent girls every year, the initiative will both improve access to quality education and target the barriers that can keep adolescent girls out of school, including gender-based violence and child marriage.
These interventions are essential because of the close link between girls’ education and international development. Countries with higher levels of female secondary-school enrollment have lower infant mortality rates, lower birth rates, lower HIV/AIDS rates, and better child nutrition. Further, every year of secondary school education is correlated with an 18 percent increase in a girl’s future earning power.
The President’s Budget proposes spending $250 million in new and reallocated funds for Let Girls Learn. The initiative will elevate existing programs in several countries, supporting a wide range of adolescent girl-focused interventions aligned with the USAID Education Strategy. Through new investments in areas of conflict and crisis—including in Afghanistan—Let Girls Learn will support adolescent girls where education access is especially difficult. Of course, quality education must be part of a broader set of opportunities. In addition to USAID education programming, the initiative will complement other adolescent girl-focused efforts across the government, such as interventions in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to reduce HIV infections in young women.
This new initiative recognizes that empowering adolescent girls will require enlisting the support of other partners. That’s why the Budget also provides funds for a new, USAID-based mechanism to mobilize new ideas—from agencies, partner governments, NGOs, the private sector, and foundations—to support innovative approaches to adolescent girls’ education.
Innovations will also come from the Let Girls Learn Peace Corps program, where hundreds of new Volunteers will work directly with communities to help keep adolescent girls in school. The new program launches this spring in 11 countries.
As with other Administration initiatives, Let Girls Learn will build upon ongoing efforts and improve coordination among government agencies and other partners. With 62 million girls worldwide out of school—half of whom are adolescent—and millions more whose potential goes unrealized, support for Let Girls Learn in the President’s Budget will help deepen our commitment to this critical population.
Shaun Donovan is Director of the Office of Management and Budget.