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Archives for Women

16 Day Challenge: Keeping International Workers Safe: Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence

Today is Day 16 of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.

This post coincides with the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence event, “Who Takes Care of the Caregivers?  Providing Care and Safety for Staff in Gender-based Violence Settings,” that took place on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Inter-Agency Gender Working Group, funded by USAID.

Gender-based Violence (GBV) is an issue that impacts aid workers – not just beneficiaries and not just staff that works in GBV settings. This post examines agencies’ duty to care for their workers by preventing and responding to GBV.

Sarah Martin is a consultant and Specialist on Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence

The sexual assault of the journalists Lara Logan, Mona Eltahawy, and two unnamed British and French journalists in Egypt, shocked the world and brought the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) against Westerners working in the developing world to the forefront. Global statistics show that 1 out of 3 women has experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault and it’s not only “the locals” being affected*. Not only are journalists at risk but also aid staffers working in conflict settings or GBV program areas.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with several women globetrotters while writing a chapter of a book on security tips for international travelers. The women I spoke with have traveled extensively in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, and they work for large international development organizations, human rights organizations, humanitarian NGOs, several different United Nations agencies and for international businesses. I asked them about their experiences as women while traveling and working overseas and what advice they had for other women doing the same. Many of them brought up their frustration that sexual harassment and sexual assault were not being adequately raised in security trainings and that there was little information in trainings or security manuals on how to support colleagues if they were assaulted. While aid agencies and organizations are increasingly providing more security trainings that simulate “hostile environments to prepare their employees for gunfire, kidnappings and other events in the field,” gender issues are not fully integrated.

Female development and aid workers have the same security concerns as their male counterparts – crime, landmine accidents and armed robberies do not discriminate based on gender. Yet women face another security threat that most men do not encounter – namely sexual harassment and sexual violence, in many cases by someone familiar to them – a co-worker, driver or a friend.  Still, security measures, trainings and manuals tend to be the same for men and women, and many agencies take a “gender-blind” approach to security. Unfortunately, this approach leaves out a major issue.  The answer isn’t restricting women’s access to “dangerous” areas but by making sure female employees are fully informed of the dangers.

International agencies and organizations have made strides in recent years addressing GBV around the world.  Aid workers are addressing the root causes of violence, improving prevention and protection services and strengthening legislation and enforcement policies.  Organizations are also taking critical steps to prevent sexual exploitation of their beneficiaries by staff.  Now we need to take the next logical step by also addressing the issue of sexual assault of aid workers as a real security concern. This means integrating the issue of sexual assault into security trainings and sensitizing the trainers and security personnel on how to address the issue, provide information to trainees on how to protect themselves, and deliver support in case the worst happens.  GBV is a human rights and public health issue, and if eliminating it is a goal, then it’s critical that we strive to protect everyone.

*Martin, Sarah (to be published May 14, 2013). Sexual Assault: Preventing And Responding As An International Traveler. In T. Spencer, Personal Security: A Guide for International Travelers. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

 

16 Day Challenge: A Helping Hand for Trafficking Victims in Uzbekistan

Today is Day 13 of our 16 Days Against Gender Activism.

Uzbekistan is at the heart of the ancient Silk Road. For centuries, people traveled across the country to exchange goods and share news. In today’s world, Uzbekistan’s strategic location has made its women prime targets for human trafficking to the Middle East and Russia.

I wanted to see firsthand how USAID is supporting services for female victims of trafficking on the modern Silk Road, so I visited the NGO Istikbolli Avlod(“Future Generation”), which is part of a small USAID-supported network of NGOs that work around the clock to help trafficked women return to Uzbekistan, get new passports, recover from their experiences and start their lives again.

Istikbolli Avlod NGO leaders conduct a trafficking awareness training for school teachers in Djizak, Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: IOM

Istikbolli Avlod has established connections in 10 cities across the country and operates a resource hotline for victims of human trafficking or domestic violence. In Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, this hotline receives more than 100 calls a month.

The national impact of this work is evident in the stories of more than 800 human trafficking victims who have been helped by Istikbolli Avlod.

I had the opportunity to meet some of these women during my recent visit to the NGO. Lina (full name withheld), a young brunette with a quiet disposition, had already lived through a great amount of personal tragedy before her 21st birthday.  At age 18, Lina was trafficked by her teacher and made to work in the United Arab Emirates. She tried unsuccessfully to escape. When she finally made it back to Uzbekistan, she had little hope for her future. Istikbolli Avlod changed that. She learned life skills, such as baking, sewing and money management. She received the emotional help she needed and was able to start her life over. Now, Lina volunteers her time to help other women who face similar situations.

The leaders of Istikbolli Avlod noted that the government’s attitudes about trafficking have undergone a sea change. Five years ago, when this network of NGO leaders started working together, the Uzbekistan government didn’t take combating human trafficking seriously. However, “Now,” they said, “police will call us and ask us for help, and will refer women in trouble to us. We are working much more closely with the government to change laws and assist citizens in returning to a normal life here.”

Going forward, one key to tackling the challenge of human trafficking in Uzbekistan will be coordination among the many and growing number of NGOs working on this issue. To address this, a network of 43 women’s rights NGOs throughout the country is being established to share experiences and advice on how to strengthen their organizations and meet community needs. They are training each other in best practices for running an NGO and are making joint plans to avoid a redundancy of services. This is a truly impressive group of women who have woven together a strong and sustainable network to help women like Lina, who have nowhere else to turn.

16 Day Challenge: Invisible Women: Violence Against Women with Disabilities

Today is Day 9 of our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

There are over a billion people with disabilities on the planet. Approximately half of them are women with disabilities. They are grandmothers, mothers, partners, lovers and sisters. They are seldom seen in market places, the fields, the classrooms, at the health clinics or in the workplace. Women with disabilities are by and large an invisible group in society. Their invisibility is partly due to the multiple forms of discrimination and the intersectionality of disability and gender.

Violence against women and girls with disabilities is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of gender-based violence. A reflection of attitudes ingrained in all cultural systems of the world where women are seen as lesser human beings – and women with disabilities as even less worthy – makes it easy for abusive power and control over them. Research by Women’s Aid indicates that one in four women experience domestic violence. For women with a disability, this figure doubles. Be it at the hands of their partner, family, or caregiver, almost one in two women with disabilities will be abused in their lifetime.

Two women conducted a street poll on disability issues for a disability inclusiveness project in Armenia. Photo Credit: World Vision

The experiences of women with disabilities fit within traditional definitions of domestic violence, but some do not – they are disability-specific, such as having medicine withheld, being physically assaulted, deliberately not being assisted to go to the toilet, or having their assistive devices taken away.  Also women with disabilities may fear reporting or leaving an abuser because of emotional, financial or physical dependence, or fear of loss of parental rights. In situations of conflict where rape is often used as a weapon of war, women with disabilities are seen as easy targets. Conversely, situations of conflict invariablely increase the incidence of disability. The United States Government National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security highlights the need to take special measures to protect women and girls with disabilities from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006, recognized that “women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation” and emphasized “the need to incorporate a gender perspective in all efforts to promote the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities.”

So as we work to combat the epidemic of violence against women, the inclusion of women with disabilities must be deliberate.  For examples, shelters must have the necessary accommodations for women with disabilities. Courts should have ramps, sign language rosters and trained staff who do not turn away women with disabilities because they do not think they are deserving of services.

Our intensified efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women must translate into accessible information on a range measures – that legal frameworks and policies are more reflective of the day-to-day experience of women with disabilities; that  prevention actions are addressing all segments of the population; that efforts to prosecute perpetrators and protect and support victims recognize the specific needs women with disabilities might have;  and that  initiatives to enhance research and collect desegregated data include women with disabilities.

Finally as we consider the major structural factors underlying gender-based violence, it is necessary to address disability-based discrimination as a root cause of some of the gravest inequalities and human rights violations in the world. The intersection between gender and disability needs to be addressed explicitly and recognized in the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework and beyond.

16 Day Challenge: U.S. and Afghan Governments Partner to Combat Human Trafficking

Today is Day 3 of our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

USAID is highlighting the work of its Missions as part of its current campaign to raise widespread awareness about human trafficking and solicit innovative ideas to combat it at www.challengeslavery.org, where we launched a counter-trafficking Tech Contest today.

USAID is leading a U.S. government interagency process designed to help Afghanistan combat trafficking in persons. Through the Agency’s advisory efforts, the Afghan government has decided to establish its own steering committee tasked with addressing a crime that is becoming an increasingly significant problem in the country.  

According to the Department of State’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, Afghanistan is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The majority of trafficking victims are children, and the International Organization for Migration reported in 2012 that younger boys and girls were increasingly subjected to forced labor in carpet-making factories and domestic servitude, and in commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging and transnational drug smuggling within Afghanistan as well as into Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Afghan children in Nuristan Province. Photo Credit: AFP Photo/Tauseef MUSTAFA

Some Afghan women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution and domestic servitude in Pakistan, Iran, and India, and there are reports of women and girls from the Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Tajikistan, and China being forced into prostitution in Afghanistan. Labor recruiting agencies lure foreign workers to Afghanistan, and traffickers lure Afghan villagers to Afghan cities or to India or Pakistan, and then sometimes subject them to forced labor or forced prostitution after their arrival.

As part of the U.S. government’s commitment, the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan, led by senior diplomats from the Department of State and USAID, meet on a regular basis with their Afghan counterparts, including a meeting earlier this week in Kabul.

U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens and USAID representatives met with the deputy Minister of Justice and representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Labor and Social Affairs, and Women’s Affairs.  The meeting focused on efforts to draft a National Action Plan, and how USAID and the embassy can assist in this important endeavor to help protect the rights of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable citizens.

During the meeting, Mohammed Ayoob Erfani, the Director General for International Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Afghan government is committed to progress in the area of combating trafficking in persons, and that he will commit resources to make sure that progress continues on this issue. The joint U.S.-Afghan efforts will focus on undertaking a national campaign designed to bring greater public awareness to this issue, and outreach efforts will be focused on educating civilians. 

16 Day Challenge: Let’s Eliminate Gender Violence

Carla Koppell serves as Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID

Today we launch our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

One young rape survivor in a camp for the internally displaced in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one of the strongest people I have met since joining USAID as Senior Coordinator. She survived a vicious gang rape while collecting fuelwood in the surrounding forest. She only saw a doctor after receiving contributions to pay for treatment from fellow impoverished camp residents. She survives by selling dung briquettes—though she earns less than she did from fuelwood— because she is too afraid for her safety to go back to the forest for wood. She is still recovering.

Yet, she came to tell her painful story to me and other strangers. Why? Because she hopes that by talking with us, others might be kept safe. She is a victim and leader at the same time; she represents and speaks for millions of women and girls around the world who face abuse, discrimination and violence when they are beaten, married as children, circumcised, attacked with acid, or sold like cattle.

This week we launch the 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Gender Violence, which runs from November 25 to December 10. We must use this time to recognize the magnitude of the challenge. In the DRC, for example, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that some 1,150 women are raped every day. And one USAID-supported study found that Bangladesh sacrifices over 2 percent of GDP annually as a result of gender-based violence (GBV). The health care and legal costs, lost income and lost productivity are enormous. Yet even as we contemplate the numbers, we must not forget the individuals, the victims of violence, as well as the incredible male and female leaders—some of whom are survivors—that lead the campaign to end the epidemic.

USAID has greatly increased our focus to combating gender-based violence. This need is front and center in the Agency’s new Gender Equality and Female Empowerment policy (PDF). Additionally this past summer, the United States released its first ever Strategy for Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence Globally (PDF), which incorporates action plans for our Agency as well as the State Department. USAID followed-up with a vision for ending child marriage and meeting the needs of married youth. At the same time, the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and accompanying USAID implementation plan include a more extensive focus on sexual violence in situations of state fragility triggered by conflict, humanitarian disaster, or political transition. USAID now truly has a comprehensive strategic vision and frame for addressing the many forms of GBV around the world.

While I am proud of the commitment implicit in the new policy frame, I am even more gratified to see expanded efforts on the ground. For example, a new commitment to combat child marriage was announced by our mission in Bangladesh in October; our mission in Pakistan incorporates GBV prevention efforts into education programs; our programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo have ramped up their focus on GBV prevention as part of several sector efforts; and in Afghanistan, USAID is focused on consolidating gains for women’s rights and opportunity. These efforts are emblematic of how our commitment to end gender violence is translating into action.

As our policies and strategies gain traction and implementation gains speed, we recognize a collective responsibility to ensure our mission translates into results around the world. I recognize a personal obligation to make sure that one woman’s story in the DRC was not told in vain.

Leading the Way in Enterprise Development

Eric Postel is the Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Education and Environment.

Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to supporting U.S. small businesses, is a great opportunity to highlight the importance of women-owned and managed small businesses around the world. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women-owned businesses in the United States contribute nearly $3 trillion to the economy annually, and have been growing at more than twice the rate of businesses owned by men. According to the International Financial Corporation, in emerging markets, women own or co-own about one-third of formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs), but most of these tend to be smaller than men-owned businesses.

At USAID, we are committed to supporting women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries, where it can raise incomes while reducing poverty and inequality, for the women, their families, their employees, and their employees’ families. Women tend to spend more of their earned income than men on the health and education of their families. National economies can’t afford to waste the talents of half the population.

Acknowledging this, USAID recently launched the Women’s Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises (WLSME) initiative in partnership with the World Bank, and the non-governmental organizations ACDI/VOCA, CARE, and Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE). The aim of USAID’s $8.5-million investment in these and related partnerships is to find innovative ways to remove some of the barriers to women owning and managing small and medium enterprises.

Svetkul Akmatova (center, in the traditional blue Kyrgyz jacket) and members of her organization, Altyn Kol Women's Handicraft Cooperative, busily prepare wool for their handmade carpets. Photo Credit: B. Jakypova, American Council for International Education

What are some of these barriers that stop women in the developing world from getting beyond a one-woman enterprise? They include: access to finance; legal and regulatory constraints; cultural practices; and women’s tolerance for risk in managing their businesses. Two important constraints that WLSME will focus on are: women’s access to and role in business information and knowledge networks; and women’s business and technical skills, education and experience.

ACDI/VOCA will use technical assistance and support for business associations to improve women’s access to larger loans in Kyrgyzstan. CARE will support the growth of women’s enterprises within the cashew value chain in India through training, networking and building family support. GRADE will compare the effectiveness of mentoring and peer networks for women looking to grow their businesses into SMEs.

In keeping with USAID’s learning agenda, these partnerships will be evaluated to tell us what worked and why, helping to improve future efforts to place women in leadership roles in enterprise development, economic growth and poverty reduction around the world.

Visit WLSME‘s website to learn more about the initiative, our partnerships in India, Kyrgyzstan and Peru, or to share your organization’s lessons learned.

Empowering Women – In Kosovo and Beyond

Early this month, we had the great pleasure of participating in the International Women’s Summit – Partnership for Change: Empowering Women­ – hosted by President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo with support from USAID and assistance from the National Democratic Institute. The event brought together 200 prominent men and women from all sectors and from all around the globe to engage in a robust and inclusive dialogue about women’s economic empowerment, political participation, access to resources, and security.

The caliber, talent, and enthusiasm that the event attracted are a testament to the importance of gender equality and empowerment. The excitement to work together to tackle the issues on the table was palpable. Government officials, political leaders, business women, entrepreneurs, media representatives, and civil society actors representing a full spectrum of ethnicities, ages, and cultures came together to discuss concrete solutions and models from around the world to improve the standing of women and girls economically, politically, and socially.

We, with all of the participants, agreed to a set of Pristina Principles that set out clear actions to address barriers to the empowerment of women. Please join us in supporting these goals or sharing your own ideas on Facebook or Twitter (#KosovoWomensSummit or #PristinaPrinciples).

And so we, together with women and men from around the world, will work to ensure that all women have economic opportunity, the opportunity to participate in political decision-making, and access to justice and security.

Paige Alexander is the USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia. Carla Koppell is the USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality. Maureen A. Shauket is the USAID/Kosovo Mission Director.

Disaster Risk Reduction for a More Resilient World

I’m just back from Sendai, the largest city in Japan’s tsunami-devastated Tohoku region, where I participated in the World Bank and Government of Japan’s Sendai Dialogue. People gathered from around the world to highlight the need for countries to understand, prevent, and prepare for the inevitable risks of natural disasters. Few nations could have withstood the fierceness of the 9.0 earthquake followed by a towering tsunami as well as Japan with its culture of preparedness. In countries where development gains are still fragile and precious, the ability to manage disasters is especially crucial for sustaining development.

On the International Day for Disaster Reduction, it is vital to remember that around the world, millions of people continue to suffer from earthquakes, storms, tsunamis and prolonged droughts that result in a tragic loss of life and slowed economic growth. Today we also celebrate the important progress of the last decade, with improved early warning systems, better community preparedness and the improved ability of countries to manage an effective response when disaster hits.

USAID has been a leader in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programming for decades, pioneering approaches to help countries and regions confront a range of these threats. But even as national response capabilities have improved in many areas, disasters and the shocks that catalyze them are coming more frequently and intensely as a result of climate change.

Moreover, in areas with chronic poverty and persistent vulnerabilities, recurring shocks continue to drive the same populations into crisis year after year. So now, even as we save lives, USAID is working to build resilience to recurrent crisis by better connecting our humanitarian assistance with our development programs and more closely coordinating with international development partners in support of country-led plans. By limiting the impacts of hazards, DRR efforts are a vital part of building resilience and helping families and communities bounce back.

This year, together with the international community, we are particularly mindful of the key role women and girls play in disaster risk reduction. In many parts of the world, it is women who most often feed their families, make sure they have water to drink, and make fast decisions when crisis strikes that can make the difference between life and death for their children.

Last week in Japan, one of the hard-learned lessons shared by the Japanese was the importance of including women and girls in planning and preparedness efforts. Two high school girls, Rina and Risa, shared with us their experiences after the earthquake and tsunami, as they helped their families escape and then to rebuild. Above all, they noted, it was a close-knit community of friends and neighbors that sustained them in a difficult time of chaos.

Today and every day, these are the lessons the international community must continue to heed and apply as part of our continued commitment to a more secure world. When it comes to disasters and development, the stakes are just too great.

Women and Girls Reduce Disaster Risk Every Day

October 13 marks the International Day for Disaster Reduction. On this day, we at USAID pause to reflect on everything done to prevent or reduce the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts, and storms. This year, together with the international community, we pay extra attention to the role played by women and girls around the world to keep their loved ones safe from harm, not just today or tomorrow, but every day.

Women are often the ones in charge of safety both in the home and in the community. Whether making sure food and water are safe to consume, arranging the house so that dangerous items are out of reach or secured, or evacuating their families in advance of a powerful storm, women make critical decisions every day that help reduce disaster risk.

Some of this activity may go overlooked, but upon closer examination, women and girls prove themselves to be real-life action heroes all year round. Women are first responders, rendering first aid or making the decision to call for extra help. They are also teachers, sharing their knowledge with friends, neighbors, family members, and colleagues. No matter the risk, women are experts at building resilience within their communities, acting well in advance of an event and always thinking about long-term survival needs. They save money and other resources for the unforeseen challenges, whether prompted by an unpredictable earthquake or the slow onset of drought.

Here at USAID, we work hard to help ensure that women and girls are equals with men with respect to disaster risk reduction. Take for example Denelia Davis, Donnesha Hemmings, and Joy Stevens, active members in the USAID-supported St. Patrick’s Rangers youth organization in Kingston, Jamaica. Not only are they leaders among their peers, they are leaders in the community. On any given day you might find them promoting the cause of disaster risk reduction on the local radio, coordinating neighborhood clean-up campaigns to prevent flooding, or working alongside their male counterparts to repair and reinforce their elderly neighbors’ homes ahead of hurricane season.

Thousands of miles away in Niger lives Fati, a charismatic mother who embodies the spirit of hard-working women everywhere. She is determined to restore her community’s grazing lands, which have been decimated by repeated droughts, using simple yet innovative techniques to conserve water and re-grow grasses for her herds. She is also teaching her children how to care for the land so that her farm and community might thrive again.

Despite all of the instances of progress, however, the fact remains that women are still more frequently affected by natural disasters than are men. Why is this? Simply put, vulnerability and poverty are closely aligned with gender quality, and gender equality is still not a reality in many places. This is why USAID’s efforts to empower women and girls to participate in policy and project planning, design, and implementation are vital.

In southern Africa, one case in point involves USAID’s partnership with CARE and the African Centre for Disaster Studies at North-West University to empower teenage girls in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Lesotho. The project, aptly named Girls in Risk Reduction Leadership or GIRRL, helps adolescent girls identify the natural hazards and socioeconomic risks they face and then design ways to mitigate them. The girls learn first aid, fire safety, and effective communication skills while conducting risk assessments of their communities and helping to prepare for likely disaster events.

USAID is heartened by the prospect of these projects and will continue to seek to strengthen the capacity of women and girls to participate fully in all aspects of disaster risk reduction.

Want to Change the World? Invest in a Girl

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.

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