By Ambassador Cathy Russell
Around the world, there’s growing recognition that gender equality matters to our shared future. Instead of asking why women and girls matter, we’re now working on how we can best include them in our work.
Over the past year, the United States has made exciting progress on these issues, particularly in recognizing the challenges facing adolescent girls. Once an overlooked demographic in development efforts, adolescent girls are now seen as a unique group — no longer children, not quite adults — facing immense challenges that threaten their future.
The problems of the world’s daughters — from early and forced marriage and genital mutilation/cutting to a lack of access to health care and education — are everyone’s problems. Efforts focused on global development, human rights, economic growth and national security all stand to lose or gain ground based on how well we address the needs of adolescent girls. They are the women of tomorrow — leaders, workers and entrepreneurs, mothers and educators.
For this reason, the United States developed a global strategy to empower these girls, which Secretary of State John Kerry launched earlier this spring. This policy roadmap brings together several US government agencies to address the various issues facing adolescent girls in a comprehensive manner, so that our efforts are smartly coordinated, implemented and measured for success.
One of those efforts is Let Girls Learn, a one-year-old Presidential initiative championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Under its umbrella, the Peace Corps trains volunteers to help girls receive a quality education at the local level and stay in school. The Millennium Challenge Corporation focuses on livelihood and skills training to prepare girls to contribute to their country’s economy. USAID works in conflict and crisis countries to provide safe access to schools, help rebuild education systems and create alternative learning programs. And the State Department uses diplomacy, public outreach, partnerships and programs in our embassies and missions around the world to tackle country-specific challenges.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), along with private sector partners, is dedicating $385 million to DREAMS, a partnership to reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women in 10 sub-Saharan African countries, including Malawi and Tanzania. PEPFAR launched an $85 million DREAMS innovation challenge that includes over $40 million dedicated to helping girls remain in school — just one example of how we’re working from all angles to answer the needs of women and girls.
The State Department is working with USAID to try something we’ve never done before: an all-hands-ondeck project in Malawi and Tanzania that will clear barriers so that women and girls achieve their full potential. By focusing on safety, health and education, and working with both local and international civil society organizations, we’re harnessing vast expertise and best practices to make a difference for women and girls in these two countries.
Ultimately, we hope that as this generation grows up in a world committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, both boys and girls will be fully prepared to pursue their dreams, raise healthy families, and fully participate in society. There’s no doubt they deserve nothing less.
Cathy Russell is the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.
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Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon