Today, there are 850 million girls in the world. Want to change the world? Invest in a girl. We know that investing in girls is not just the right thing to do, it’s also smart economics. Girls who are more educated earn more income, have greater access to family health information and services, are more likely to delay early marriage and childbirth, and have healthier babies. Research shows the benefits of an educated and empowered girl—not only for herself, but her family and community.
For instance, one extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent; an extra year of secondary school by 15 to 25 percent. These gains can have incredible multiplying affects since women tend to spend more of their income on goods and services that benefit their families.
Yet, girls face many obstacles. 62 million primary school age girls are not in school. Girls spend more time than boys on unpaid work and care for younger siblings, and that difference is substantial for those who are not enrolled in school. Also, perhaps no other segment of society globally faces as much exploitation and injustice than girls.
That’s why we’re thrilled that last December, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th the International Day of the Girl to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. Today is an exciting opportunity to educate others about the status of girls and the positive results that can be obtained by investing in them. At USAID, we’re taking this opportunity to refine our efforts to tackle child marriage and promote secondary education to ensure that girls are not robbed of their human rights and can live to their full potential.
There are more than 60 million child brides worldwide. Millions of young women around the world are married before the age of 18, one girl in seven in developing countries marries before the age of 15. Many marry against their will and in violation of international laws and conventions on women’s rights.
These young brides often are socially isolated and powerless in the relationship. They have limited education and economic opportunities, and they are vulnerable to health complications that result from giving birth before their bodies are fully developed. One quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18 and complications from early and frequent childbearing is a leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19.
Today, we released Ending Child Marriage and Serving the Needs of Married Youth: The USAID Vision, which focuses on development efforts to combat child marriage in regions, countries, and communities. We’re focusing on interventions to prevent and respond to child marriage where it’s most needed and most able to achieve results. We’re also tackling child marriage on-the-ground, where it matters most. In Bangladesh, we’re working with the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to support a pilot program to test approaches to address child marriage, particularly efforts that promote community sensitization to this critical issue.
Also, recognizing that education can be the key to unlocking a girl’s potential, USAID and the Presidents’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are working together to ensure thousands of adolescent girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) make successful transitions to secondary school. Only 11 percent of Congolese women over age 25 have a secondary education; with an emphasis on leadership training this program, Empowering Adolescent Girls to Lead through Education (EAGLE), will seek to raise girls’ enrollment by tackling many of the barriers keeping girls from continuing their post-primary education – including cost and school safety.
Girls should be engaged in society. They should have the opportunity for friendships and mentoring so that they can participate in the decision-making and be prepared to lead. They should have access to education and health information and services. Girls should be protected from sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. Their voices should be amplified and their active citizenship encouraged and supported for generations to come.
An investment in girls will pay dividends for generations to come. Let’s all keep that in mind as we celebrate the first-ever International Day of the Girl.