Educating Girls: The Multiplier Effect
October 27, 2016
by Rahima Jamal
This summer, I am interning at the United States Agency for International Development, an executive agency with the mission to end extreme poverty and promote, resilient, democratic societies while advancing the United States security and prosperity. My primary focus for the summer is researching gender and social inclusion. Throughout my daily work, I frequently encounter harrowing statistics that paint a bleak picture of the status of girls in the developing world. Two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are female. 62 million girls are not in school. 17 million girls are never expected to ever enter a school.  These unimaginably large numbers may make it seem as though no change can ever make a significant impact on the education prospects of girls in the developing world. However, with each statistic, my will to make a difference increases. Thankfully, USAID and other developmental organizations fully understand the benefit of investing in education for girls and have made it a priority in their work.
A girl’s education has an immeasurable impact on her family, community, and country as as a whole. Education has the ability to decrease infant mortality, increase wages, improve nutrition, boost a country’s economy, and decrease the number of child marriages in the developing world. Perhaps most importantly, education empowers girls to understand their full potential. When girls and young women are educated, they have a greater awareness of their rights and confidence in their ability to make decisions. In turn, girls create change in their lives that improves their health and economic prospects. Ensuring that girls stay in school is also one of the most effective ways of decreasing child marriage and early births, a key factor in lowering birth and maternal mortality rates. Each extra year of a mother’s education reduces the likelihood of infant mortality by five to ten percent and increases a women’s future earning by ten to twenty percent. 
Although the positive impacts of educating girls are apparent to developmental organizations like USAID, countries are unable to enact sweeping change for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of financial resources. However, one of the most significant obstacles to educating girls is the ingrained belief that women are inferior to men, and, as such, do not deserve the same opportunities or equitable treatment. In order to deconstruct these notions and promote the education of adolescent girls worldwide, the United States government has created the Let Girls Learn initiative. The US government has made educating girls a priority in their developmental efforts. Through collaboration with the White House, Peace Corps, and Department of State, USAID’s Let Girls Learn approach consists of three main pillars: increasing access to quality education, reducing barriers to success, and empowering adolescent girls. 
USAID seeks to increase access to quality education by implementing programs that teach girls to read and write, ensuring that girls affected by crises have access to education, and implementing workforce development programming. For example, the Safer Schools program implemented in Pakistan strives to ensure that children affected by humanitarian crises have access to education.  This program will benefit 53,000 children displaced from North Waziristan. Over 10,000 children, nearly half of whom are girls, have been enrolled in Temporary Learning Centers. Over 100 teachers have also been trained in psychosocial support and with techniques for teaching in challenging environments. 
By reducing barriers to girls’ education, USAID focuses on eliminating the vulnerabilities that may prevent girls from attending school in the first place. These challenges include early marriage, malnutrition, menstruation, and gender-based violence. For example, the Protecting Human Rights Program in Bangladesh works to reduce child marriage by spearheading a public awareness campaign for more than ten thousand primary school students about their rights relating to child marriage and the negative effects it has on a girl’s future prospects. This five-year program, started in March 2011, is being implemented across the country by Plan International. The program works in collaboration with the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association, as well as eleven local organizations at the district and union levels. 
Finally, by empowering adolescent girls, USAID focuses on increasing girls’ rights, leadership, and opportunity by cultivating skills, such as mathematics, science, engineering, and agriculture. Furthermore, it also works to transform toxic gender norms that lead to gender-based violence by encouraging community engagement and communication. For example, the Women and Girls Lead Global program combines multiple forms of media to shift gender norms and empower women and girls.  The partnership includes a ten-episode documentary film series featuring women and girls persevering challenging circumstances to better their lives, their families, and their communities. Currently implemented in Bangladesh, Colombia, El Salvador, India, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, and Peru, the programs seeks to combine the power of media with locally-led campaigns to address the challenges girls face across the world. The campaign has reached 26,000 people in more than 100 communities in Bangladesh alone.
USAID’s multi-faceted approach to increasing the education prospects of girls in the developing world has resulted in girls worldwide realizing their full potential. Although the challenge is certainly great, investing in a girl’s education leads to a powerful multiplier effect on her family, community, and economy. As a Pakistani-female myself, I fully recognize the importance of USAID’s work. Although I was privileged enough to receive an exceptional education in the United States, I will strive to make sure that Pakistani females are not left behind.
Watch more: https://www.usaid.gov/letgirlslearn
 “Girls’ Education – The Facts”, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2013. http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf 7/16/2016.
 “Let Girls Learn”, United States Agency for International Development, 2016. https://www.usaid.gov/letgirlslearn 7/16/2016.
 “United States Awards $4.6 million to UNICEF for Pakistan Safer Schools Program” Embassy of the United States, 2015. http://islamabad.usembassy.gov/pr011515.html 8/2/2016.
 “Bangladesh: Protecting Human Rights”, Plan International, 2016. https://www.planusa.org/bangladesh-protecting-human-rights 8/2/2016.
 “Women and Girls Lead Global Partnership” United States Agency for International Development, 2016. https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment/women-and-girls-lead-global 8/2/2016.
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