During his trip to Rio de Janeiro to participate in the World Economic Forum, USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mark Feierstein, visited a school participating in the Enter Jovem Plus Program. Feierstein went to State School Tim Lopes, to closely observe the youth employability project. The school is located in Complexo do Alemão, one of the slum areas in Rio recently pacified by the police. USAID/Brazil‘s Mission Director, Lawrence Hardy, and HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, Nena Lentini, also participated in the visit.
Mark Feierstein surrounded by students in Rio de Janeiro Photo Credit: Instituto Empreender
The Enter Jovem Plus program is conducted in Rio de Janeiro by Instituto Empreender, in partnership with Chevron, Rio’s State Government, and USAID. In his conversation with the students participating in the program, Feierstein stressed the importance of offering young people finishing high school professional training with a focus on employability, information technology, and English language. “We work in various parts of the world to foster development. You are very lucky to be here at this school. Enjoy every moment, work hard and have fun,” he said.
The goal of Enter Jovem Plus for Rio de Janeiro in 2011 is to provide professional training for 1,000 students. So far, approximately 700 students from 23 schools are enrolled. In Rio de Janeiro, the program started in 2010 in 16 public schools, and certified 310 students with ages between 16 and 29 years. This year, the priority is the inclusion of schools located in pacified areas. Students receive training to develop social and professional skills, including notions of tourism, quality of service and entrepreneurship. The program also helps students finding job opportunities.
Chevron’s manager for institutional relations, Lia Blower, U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro’s Public Affairs Officer, Mark Pannell, and representatives of State Government accompanied Mark Feierstein’s visit.
By: Andrew Farrand, Program Officer, Central and West Africa, NDI
While young people under 25 comprise approximately two-thirds of Rwanda’s population, historically they have lacked meaningful opportunities to engage in politics. An older elite has traditionally made the country’s political decisions, and during the 1994 genocide, political leaders mobilized disaffected youth for violent ends. But today, many young Rwandans hope to channel their untapped power into productive and peaceful political expression.
U.S. Ambassador W. Stuart Symington greets a YPLA student at a reception following the Kigali academy's launch. Photo Credit: NDI
Since September 2008, NDI has helped Rwandan political parties organize and communicate with supporters. This includes training young activists who are joining parties in increasing numbers and who are often receptive to new ideas about party organizing, democracy and technology that can help parties reach new voters and win more support.
To provide Rwandan youth with practical political skills, NDI partnered with the Rwandan Consultative Forum of Political Organisations to create the Youth Party Leadership Academy (YPLA) in Kigali last year. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the academy included three months of intensive political training, as well as a study mission to Accra, Ghana, for the top-performing students. There participants learned firsthand from their Ghanaian counterparts how young people can participate actively in political parties — and support peaceful, democratic politics in the process.
This month, the Institute launched an expanded academy in two locations: the capital, Kigali, and the southern city of Butare. The academy brought together 80 under-35 activists from all 10 of Rwanda’s registered political parties for three seminars a week over 10 weeks. Sessions are led by international and local practitioners and academics, and address political party organizing, political communication, good governance, building a political career, ethical leadership, negotiation and conflict prevention, and using technology for political organizing, among numerous other topics.
NDI Resident Director Amy Pritchard has high hopes for the students. “They’re an incredibly dynamic and engaged group,” she said. “We are focusing on the role political parties play in Rwanda’s government, elections and civic life, and are working on teaching skills that will improve the students’ and their parties’ leadership abilities.”
Meanwhile, the 34 graduates from the first academy are putting their new skills to good use. Last year, the Social Democratic Party nominated YPLA graduate Theodomir Niyonsenga to serve as its second deputy general secretary. During last year’s presidential elections, graduates Claudette Mukabaseyba, Pie Nizeyimana, Telesphore Hakorimana and Sada Uwase were invited to join the forum’s national election observation mission, while others served as political party agents at polling stations, trained fellow party members in campaign skills, or helped to organize campaign rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts. Two YPLA graduates ran in last month’s local elections and one, Angélique Mukunde, was elected vice mayor for economic affairs in the capital’s Kicukiro district.
On his trip to Latin America, President Obama highlighted the theme of partnership and echoed President Kennedy’s challenge “to build a hemisphere where all people can hope for a sustainable, suitable standard of living, and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom.”
Students from a US public school in San Salvador, wait for the arrival of US President Barack Obama at the airport in the Salvadorean capital on March 22, 2011. US President Barack Obama arrived in El Salvador Tuesday on the last leg of a three-nation tour of Latin America. Photo Credit: Salvador Melendez
One of the modern challenges for Latin American countries like El Salvador is addressing the grip of gangs and criminal organization on local communities, especially on young people. One of the ways that USAID works to address youth issues in Central America is by partnering with local organizations and governments to invest in crime and drug prevention programs.
To highlight the need to engage youth and harness their potential for positive development, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the site of a USAID project called ¡Supérate! in San Salvador.
Accompanied by USAID Administrator Raj Shah, the first lady helped 30 enthusiastic ¡Supérate! students complete their community service project by painting a mural to decorate the center’s health clinic, which is scheduled to open next month.
¡Supérate! (which means improve yourself!) is a three-year after-school program that provides English, computer and life skills training to underprivileged youth-at risk (ages 13-18) who have demonstrated high academic performance and a desire for self-improvement. Students train two hours, six days a week before or after their regular school day.
Students involved in this enriching program develop the skills necessary for a successful transition to higher education and or future jobs. With the help of Microsoft, youth involved in iSupérate! have access to computers and other technologies that allow them to further their education and compete in the modern job market. More than 300 ¡Supérate! graduates have obtained university scholarships and/or permanent employment.
The program was launched in 2004 by the Sagrera Palomo Family Foundation, a local organization. Encouraged by the earlier success of ¡Supérate!, USAID teamed up with the foundation and Microsoft to open six new education centers in El Salvador. The partnership expects to benefit an additional 1,000 youths through the next 3 years.
At the event today, the first lady congratulated the students and the community of teachers and mentors who support them for their achievements and emphasized how important it is for students to give back to their communities through action.
Vivian O. was born in the outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, and is said to have entered the world smiling. Life for Vivian and others in her rural fishing village was challenging, requiring families to rely on ingenuity and perseverance in the face of little resources. With the support of her family and her local community, the opportunities created by U.S. assistance programs, and the force of her determination, Vivian would achieve more than she’d ever imagined.
By the time Vivian finished fourth grade, her mother had a stable job selling used clothes in the open-air market in Kisumu. Girls in rural communities like Vivian’s typically receive a low level of schooling. However, having completed high school herself, Vivian’s mother prized education and overcame obstacles to enroll Vivian in a proper primary school. Vivian was one of the top students in her province and eventually secured a place at Starehe Girls’ Centre, a highly competitive secondary school for gifted girls.
While in high school, Vivian became a member of the Global Give Back Circle, a circle of empowerment designed to transition a girl from poverty to prosperity. The program mentors and supports girls so they can successfully transition from high school to college to a career and to global citizenship. As the girls graduate, they commit to mentoring the next generation of girls in the circle.
In 2011, USAID announced a $3.5 million award for the education and empowerment of girls through the Global Give Back Circle. The award is matched by an additional $3.5 million in private sector funds through a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment, so that the program can help over 500 Kenyan girls progress to higher levels of education and employment. The process is implemented by the Kenya Community Development Foundation—a program by Kenyans for Kenyans.
Vivian has had many opportunities through the Global Give Back Circle. She completed a nine-month Microsoft IT course, which allowed her to access educational resources online, research colleges, and obtain a full scholarship to a U.S. college. She is studying pre-med and IT, aspiring to give back by helping millions through the connection of technology and medicine. Vivian met the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, and pledged to actively participate in improving investments in people in Kenya. As a result, she made presentations to private sector CEOs in Kenya and invited them to invest in girls. Vivian says, “I feel privileged and honored to be able to be a voice for the empowerment of girls in my country.”
On March 8, 2011, Vivian joined two other young women of excellence—Maryam from Afghanistan and Terhas from Ethiopia—as special guests to the State Department’s International Women of Courage Awards, followed by a private meeting with Secretary Clinton. Vivian then visited the White House as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama for a celebration of International Women’s Day. Two sixth-grade girls, who have benefited from a girls education program in Burkina Faso administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in partnership with USAID, also attended.
At the event, Mrs. Obama said, “We as a nation benefit from every girl whose potential is fulfilled, from every woman whose talent is tapped,” adding that countries worldwide are more prosperous and peaceful “when women are equal and have the rights and opportunities they deserve.”
USAID’s Office of Development Partners (ODP) and the Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade (EGAT) sponsored a panel discussion on “Measuring the Impact of Sports on Youth Development” on Tuesday, March 1st. Over 125 guests and staff heard from NGO leadership who work with sports as a platform for youth development and spoke on the evaluation techniques for measuring the impact of these programs.
“This was a great opportunity for USAID staff and our external stakeholders to discuss how sports impacts the work we do in development,” said Mori Taheripour, Senior Alliance Officer in PSA/ODP, who organized the event. “Our panelists offered perspectives that show not only the impact of the work on the communities that they serve but also helped bridge the gap between observed impact and evidence-based outcomes that continue to challenge this industry.”
The panelists included Paul Teeple from Partners of the Americas: A Ganar Alliance; Maria Bobenreith, of Women Win; Kirk Friederich of Grassroot Soccer; and Brendan Tuohey of Peace Players International. PeacePlayers International and A Ganar are both USAID-funded programs.
Moderated by Kenneth Shropshire, of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, the panel highlighted the ability for sports to serve as a powerful platform for youth development. USAID currently operates youth programs in over forty countries around the world and over 280 sports-based programs.
Sports-based youth programs have been used to address a variety of development issues, and the diversity of panelists highlighted represented the unique ability of sport, as a platform for development, to address a broad range of sectors including peace and conflict, gender inequality, health, education and economic development.
Panelists discussed how they use evaluation tools and the challenges that they face in seeking data-driven and rigorous evaluation methodology. They shared a variety of anecdotal examples that truly capture the essence and “magic” of their work, but continue in many ways to struggle with balancing anecdotal and hard data, not wanting to lose the intangible, less obvious impact of their work. The discussion explored several issues related to evaluating the impact of sports activities including: how to measure impact over the long-term; how to measure return on investment; and several methods, including the use of interviews to obtain meaningful, unbiased responses. Panelists identified the need to develop better tools for capturing the impact of sports on youth development and noted that USAID could play an important, convening role in this area.
USAID’s Youth Advisor, Erin Mazursky mentioned that the event was the kick-off of a series of youth-focused activities and events that will roll out over the next couple of months. “Focusing on youth is a priority for the agency,” she said. “The recent events in the Middle East have shown that youth have proven that they are not just the next generation of change-makers, but a generation that is right now very much affecting the course of history.”
After a one-hour prop plane ride from Kathmandu, followed by an 11-hour rocky drive through the stunning hills and valleys of Mid-Western Nepal’s upper hilly region, our team reached Salyan District’s remote and rural villages. We were there to video the successes of the USAID-supported, 50,000-strong Female Community Health Volunteer project. Working in every district of Nepal, these volunteers are often the only health care providers in such remote and isolated villages.
Female Community Health Volunteers of Marke District, Nepal, work to enhance health awareness, improve health standards, and save lives throughout their communities by utilizing the training they’ve received through the USAID-supported Nepal Family Health Program. Photo Credit: Gregg Rappaport/USAID
I’ve spent the last several days traveling with our group comprised of health specialists, program managers, and communicators (Gregg Rapaport, Senior Communications Manager, and Stuti Basnyet, USAID/Nepal) videoing, interviewing, listening and learning. The stories are nothing short of amazing, and the volunteers’ passion to fulfill what they consider a calling to serve their communities has been inspiring.
It’s been humbling to hear the stories of these dedicated volunteers giving care under arduous circumstances and to meet the many villagers seeking care – a health volunteer who recently saved a newborn baby’s life minutes after delivery; another who has committed more than 22 years to serving her community through this project; a group of women who, in the last six months, have counseled more than 85 couples on family planning; a man seeking care for severe knee problems who arrived in the village on a stretcher after traveling nearly two hours, carried high above the heads of his four nephews. These volunteers are changing the behavior of their villages, increasing awareness to improve health standards, and most importantly, saving lives. Of the 500 local children checked for pneumonia in the last six months, 73 were treated with antibiotics, 13 were referred to higher level health care at the district level, and all have made a full recovery.
One woman I spoke with, Laxmi Sharma, a volunteer in Salyan’s Ward 4, said that it’s not a matter of money, but rather a matter of helping her community. “We do this as volunteers,” she explained, “because we can improve the health of our communities.” The women play a crucial role in providing vitamin A supplementation, immunizations, family planning education, safe motherhood interventions, and community-based integrated management of childhood illnesses, particularly in the detection and treatment of pneumonia and diarrhea – Nepal’s top two childhood killers.
With support from USAID and other donors, Nepal is also one of only a handful of countries poised to meet more than one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in health by reducing the number of maternal and child deaths by nearly half in only 10 years! A remarkable achievement alone, that it was realized at the end of the nation’s prolonged 10-year internal conflict makes it even more profound.
Our return trip back through the town of Dang this afternoon was marked by a rather serendipitous event – hundreds of women, men, and children marched in solidarity to celebrate the global 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. One woman I spoke with explained, “Through this (march) forum … we can work to ensure women have equity, empowerment, and are at the center of mainstream politics. If all the women come together, this is something that is achievable, we just need to work at it.”
Around the world today, millions of people will flood the streets in their hometowns to voice their enduring support for the advancement of women and girls as key leaders in the creation of a better world. As new ideas and innovative ways are introduced, USAID/Nepal continues to incorporate these pioneering initiatives in its program design, placing women and girls at the forefront of building the country’s peace and prosperity.
But USAID/Nepal is not only working in the health sector – it is also leading the way in partnership with the Nepalese people to finding solutions to the toughest challenges to driving economic progress, promoting educational opportunities, promoting political stability, sustaining the environment, and feeding the population.
The Education for Income Generation Activity has trained more than 65,000 disadvantaged youth from the Midwestern region—the most conflict affected and one of the poorest regions of Nepal—in basic and business literacy, vocational training and agriculture productivity and enterprise development in the last three years. Of these, 7,900 youth received vocational training with 80% gainfully employed as a result of the training.
Through the Women’s Leadership Academy program, USAID has provided training on the fundamentals of democratic politics and constitution drafting to over 200 elected women parliamentarians and civil servants, providing them with the tools needed to draft the constitution and participate fully in party and parliamentary proceedings.
We know that supporting investment in women and girls can be compelling force multiplier for development and innovation. At the heart of Nepal’s advancement, women will continue to advocate on behalf of their communities, and promote advancements in education, economic growth, politics, climate change, and initiatives to improve access to food. USAID/Nepal will continue to move this agenda forward, and advance this priority by standing in solidarity with by the women and girls of Nepal.
This week we celebrate International Women’s Day and it’s as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the remarkable accomplishments toward achieving gender equality—and of the challenges that remain to ensuring that the 3.4 billion girls and women on our planet have the same chances as boys and men to lead healthy and satisfying lives.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “equal access to education, training, and science and technology,” is a powerful affirmation of the many benefits of educating girls, which come from improving women’s well-being, such as through better maternal health and greater economic empowerment. A recent Lancet article concluded that half of the decline in child mortality in low-income countries over the past 40 years can be attributed to better education of girls. Another recent study concluded that countries that have more educated women have coped with extreme weather conditions better than other countries—and these are just two studies that have found empirical evidence for why investing in girls’ education is smart policy.
Girls’ enrollment in primary education has risen from 79% to 87% in the past decade, and gender equality, as measured by the ratio of girls’ to boys’ enrollment rates, seems almost within sight. Even in rural areas in poor countries, more girls are entering school. But these gains have not been the same across countries or even within countries. Being poor, living in a rural area, being from an indigenous community and being a girl means having much less schooling. According to the 2010 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report, for example, poor Hausa girls in rural Nigeria complete only one-third of a year of schooling as compared with more than 10 years for rich, urban boys and girls. Indeed, in many countries across the world, multiple sources of disadvantage leave girls’ schooling lagging behind that of boys. The uphill battle for these girls in areas torn by conflict is even worse.
Special challenges exist for girls. These challenges may be a heavy workload that takes time away from schooling and learning. In Mozambique, for example, young teenage girls work 50% more hours each week than boys, not only cooking and taking care of younger siblings but also collecting water or firewood for their families. Because they are often not expected to use academic skills later in life, girls and their parents may not place sufficient value on schooling—and probably just as typically, their teachers may believe that it is more important to teach to the boys than to the girls in their classrooms.
When I first joined the World Bank 20 years ago, girls’ education was the first issue I worked on. With three other women who were passionate about the issue (two at USAID and one at an NGO), I organized the panel session on girls’ education at the Education for All conference in Jomtien, Thailand. We have come a long way since. We now know more about the effectiveness of programs such as targeted scholarships or vouchers, conditional cash transfers, and removal of tuition fees that influence the family’s demand for girls’ education. We also know that making more people aware of the benefits of girls’ education, measuring gender inequalities, and rallying more voices to speak about those inequalities are powerful ways to remind people of this critical development issue.
Educating girls is a priority for the World Bank and is a fundamental tenet of our forthcoming Education Strategy 2020, which is dedicated to ensuring that all children, everywhere, are afforded the right to learn and reach their full potential.
Elizabeth King is Director of Education for the World Bank. Elizabeth blogs on Education for Global Development, at blogs.worldbank.org/education.
As the 100th celebration of international women’s day approaches, I’ve been musing over the origins of the day and what it symbolizes. The first international women’s day was formally celebrated on March 19, 1911 throughout Europe, where both women and men advocated for women’s right to work under fair conditions.
In 2011, as USAID reiterates its support for advancing women’s rights, it is appropriate to reflect on how international development programs can continue to support this objective of international women’s day. The time is ripe to ask ourselves how we, as development practitioners, can continue to advance women’s role as income earners around the world.
From my twenty-six years of working in international development around the world, I believe that the key to a women’s ability to earn income is how the law defines her as an independent economic actor. Can she own and register a business? Qualify for credit without the signature of her husband, father or brother on a loan? Can she purchase property in her own name? Can she file taxes herself? Inherit property from her mother or father? What happens if she is widowed? To address these questions, USAID has sponsored several initiatives over the years that advance women’s legal rights, including rights related to income generation. These projects have initiated the dialogue over legislation which defines women status as individuals, statutes concerning marriage and divorce, inheritance and children, among other things.
USAID projects work to protect women’s rights by engaging government, civil society organizations, communities, and local leaders to change legislation that advances women’s rights. In some instances legislation change is directly related to enabling women’s economic engagement. However projects must also consider how to establish environments that are conducive to women’s economic participation. USAID has supported several projects which advance other aspects of women’s empowerment and ultimately contribute to her ability to earn an income. Projects such as the Women’s Legal Right Initiative worked in nine countries around the world on activities such as establishing policy to prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace and schools, and criminalize violence against women. In Benin, for example, this was put to practice by working with local NGOs to draft sexual harassment legislation that became law.
The first international women’s day was celebrated by both women and men. Recent studies on advancing women’s rights confirm that family dynamics for women get better when social policies and programs support greater involvement by men in these issues. A new publication by the UN documents this process showing how women’s status increases when she has earning opportunities that are reinforced with social policies that support both women and men.
As we begin to think about how we will shape the next one hundred international women’s days, it is good to remember the lessons we have learned to advance the conditions for working women; in terms of women’s role within the family and women’s role as income earners. USAID’s fresh focus on monitoring and evaluation of development programs will help document how specific activities help bring women into the development process as equal partners and the impact this has on family welfare and economic development.
Dr. Tisch is a social scientist with 22 years project management and technical expertise including 17 years of project experience in Asia. Serves as home office director of the USAID Indonesia Changes for Justice project and the USAID Anti-Trafficking in Persons project. Dr. Tisch is a three-time USAID chief of party (Women’s Legal Rights Initiative; dot-GOV program; Farmer-to-Farmer Program Russia and Ukraine). She served as project manager for the e-government Knowledge Map for the World Bank InfoDev program, project leader for the USAID/ANE Bureau ASEAN ICT Enhancement project, and program leader for the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative (Atlantic Philanthropic Services).
Child and Family Support Centers (CFSC) established under USAID’s Community-Based Children’s Support Program have provided around 30,000 vulnerable children and 8,000 families in Azerbaijan with essential social services over the past six years. The majority of children that use the centers are considered vulnerable – meaning they live in institutions, are from poor families, are Internally Displaced Persons (İDPs), or are living with a physical or mental disability.
Implemented by Save the Children and funded through USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, the program began in 2004 to provide community-based models in support of the Azerbaijan Ministry of Education’s “State Program on De-Institutionalization and Alternative Care (2006-2015)”. This State Program envisioned reunification of children living in institutions with their biological families or alternative care providers.
Anver Tagiyev tailoring at his workshop. Photo Credit: llgar Ahmadov Social worker, Goygoy CFSC (Child and Family Support Center).
Anver Tagiyev, 17, is one of the beneficiaries of the program. Suffering from a congenital spinal cyst, Anver developed a neurological curved foot as the ailment advanced. Although Anver went through surgery in 2002 to correct the problem, complications required the amputation of his right leg. Now, Anver is wearing a prosthetic leg.
Severe health problems coupled with the untimely death of his mother led to Anver’s decision to drop out of high-school. Despite his poor health, in 2009 he got the chance to attend a six-month course on sewing in Baku conducted by the Employment and Treatment Center for Young People with Disabilities. However, upon return to Goygol (a town 220 miles west of capital Baku) he faced unemployment. Most young people with disabilities have limited opportunities for employment in the country; Anver was not an exception. Despondent and hopeless, Anver became unconcerned about his future. His father remembers that difficult period his son went through: “For a father I cannot think of anything worse than feeling powerless to help your child. Waiting for Anver, wondering where he could be and in what company, I spent many sleepless nights.”
After becoming acquainted with the USAID-funded Child and Family Support Center in Goygol, Anver rediscovered hope. CFSC social workers opened a case for Anver to assess his housing, education facilities, and psychological factors to determine if the needs of this vulnerable family could be addressed. As a result of their activities that successfully mobilized community support, a local tailor agreed to take Anver as his apprentice.
Anver has a job he enjoys. ‘When my mom died, and I lost my leg, I thought it was over for me. But now, my worldview has changed. I have two arms and another leg. I have a profession – I am a good tailor”, says Anver.
Created both in the capital city and in nine districts across the country these twelve centers demonstrate how to provide children and their families with services they need as an alternative to institutionalization. These centers promote social integration and local capacity to care for vulnerable children by mobilizing community resources to address children’s needs through psychosocial and economic support.
Three of the centers were handed over to the Government of Azerbaijan in 2008 and are still in operation. Nine CFSCs were handed over to the State Committee on Family, Women and Children’s Issues under an agreement signed at the end of December 2010 between the State Committee and Save the Children, culminating more than six years of close collaboration between the governments of Azerbaijan and the United States, with recent support from the European Union.
As part of the handover, the State Committee has assumed financial and managerial oversight for these nine centers from January 2011 as further indication of the Azerbaijani government’s committment to child welfare system reform.
Women and girls are an extremely powerful force for development. A woman’s economic wellbeing is fundamental to her family, her community, her children, and her children’s children. Women are vital to economic growth, income generation, and security and stability. More than 70 percent of the farmers in Africa are women, often toiling on small plots to grow fruits, vegetables and grains for their families.
They are central to the household economy — they not only grow most of the food, they prepare it and serve it, and keep the house clean and take care of the children. Young girls are responsible for much of the labor families need to survive: tending livestock, carrying water, harvesting crops, watching younger children, and doing chores.
Increasing family incomes, fighting poverty, improving nutrition, and building the skill base needed to sustain development – teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers – all depend on investing in and providing opportunities for women and girls. When women do earn income, they are more likely than men to spend it on food, education, and health care for their families. They are a huge and growing part of the population in many developing countries: in Nigeria, girls and young woman under 30 years of age account for 35% of the population; in the United States they account for just 20%. And gender equality matters for development: evidence shows that the incidence of poverty tends to be lower and the rate of economic growth higher in countries with greater gender equality.
And yet women and girls face huge systematic disadvantages and hurdles that undermine their own progress, and the progress of their families, communities, and countries. According to the path-breaking report Girls Count, girls and women are less educated, less healthy, and less free than their male counterparts. Many are forced to marry at a young age and are extraordinarily vulnerable to HIV, sexual violence, and physical exploitation. They typically cannot own land, get credit, or even apply for many jobs. Between one-quarter and one-half of girls become mothers before age 18, and 70% of the people in the world living in poverty are women and girls.
I’ve seen first-hand the power of creating opportunities for girls and women. As a Peace Corps teacher in an all-girls school in the tiny village of Leulumoega in Samoa, I saw how girls with a basic high school education could get good jobs, help provide for their families, and become leaders in their communities.
I’ve met young women working in garment factories in Indonesia and data-entry centers in Ghana that speak about the empowerment that comes from earning their own incomes, and how they are able to wait longer to be married, have fewer children, and take better care of their families. And I’ve seen close up how, when given the opportunity, a woman president – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia – can lead her country from the brink of ruin at the end of a terrible civil war and regain peace, stability, credibility, and the beginnings of economic growth and vibrant democracy.
We can and must do better to support women and girls. That’s why through President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative we are focusing on investments that provide new opportunities for women farmers and help improve nutrition for their families. That’s why our microfinance and SME programs emphasize creating new opportunities for women to earn incomes to support their families. That’s why the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and USAID Forward puts a huge emphasis on investing in women and girls, and incorporates gender equality into our core aid effectiveness principles. We know that to accelerate development and build strong, stable and well-governed societies, we must unleash the power of girls and women.