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Educating 1+ Billion Girls Will Make the Difference for Women’s Equality

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.

USAID’s Frontlines – February/March 2011

FrontLines

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories:

In this photo, a runner-up in FrontLines’ February/March 2011 photo contest, a child peers around the corner in the waiting room of the HIV Comprehensive Care Clinic of Meru District Hospital in Kenya’s Eastern Province, with two pediatricians standing in the background. The clinic has a newly renovated pediatric ward, with private rooms for HIV testing and counseling for children, pregnant women and families. A support group meets in one of the rooms for children infected and affected by HIV. See the winning image from the photo contest and nine other runner-up images taken by FrontLines readers on the FrontLines web page. And get your cameras ready: the deadline for the next FrontLines photo contest is April 1. Get more details at here. Photo credit: Mia Collis, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Get these stories and more in the new issue of FrontLines. And, if you would like to automatically receive a reminder about the latest FrontLines, you can subscribe here.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (2/28/2011–3/4/2011)

March 1 The New York Times reports that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that USAID will be dispatching two teams to Libya’s borders in Egypt and Tunisia to assess the need for emergency assistance. Clinton also said the agency has set aside $10 million for humanitarian assistance and begun an inventory of American emergency food supplies.

March 2 The Washington Post, Reuters, and AFP all reported on Secretary Clinton’s comments concerning the State Department and USAID budget, saying that “diplomatic and development activities…are at least as important as military readiness.” Bloomberg News noted that in response to her statements about national security, several Republics argued that that nation’s deficit threatens U.S. stability. AP added that Clinton regretted that budget cuts may eliminate a plan to open a new development aid office in the Pacific.

March 2 CBS News, NBC Nightly News, and Foreign Policy’s “The Cable” blog reported on the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and the history of the organization that is “more relevant than ever,” according to President Obama. Hillary Clinton praised the Peace Corps, saying that many of her colleagues in the State Department and USAID began their careers in the Peace Corps.

March 4 AFP reports that proposed foreign aid cuts could hamper food security efforts and spark unrest. According to USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, “acute hunger ‘threatens the stability of governments, societies and borders around the world.”

March 4 The New York Times reports that President Obama has authorized USAID to charter civilian aircraft to help refugees return to other countries.

Administrator Shah Delivers a TED Talk on Leveraging Science and Technology in Development

Administrator Rajiv Shah delivering a TED Talk in Long Beach. Photo Credit: Dan Shine/USAIIn the world of science and technology, we crave for the new and the different.  Innovation is described as applied invention sometimes, but true innovation creates an emotion when you’re exposed to it.  It’s a combination of fascination and an urgent instinct to share what you’ve just experienced with others.

I just finished day one of the annual TED conference in Long Beach, and amongst the sharing of breakthroughs in quantum mechanics, the relationship between policy and emotion, and a virtual choir, the audience got a chance to hear from USAID Administrator Raj Shah.

He described how we are changing the way USAID approaches aid, highlighting innovations in healthcare delivery, mobile banking, and the prevention of HIV transmission.  He focused on how important leveraging these science and technology game-changers has become, and provided a strong vision for the future.

This is a tough crowd.  TED prides itself on showing us things not seen before.  From us, they saw USAID’s innovative vision and Raj’s passion, and from all the conversations and excitement that ignited following his talk, it’s clear they were intently excited and inspired about what they saw.  Just as importantly, millions more will have access to that vision when his talk makes it’s way to www.ted.com.

Meet Amit Mistry, AAAS Science and Technology Fellow at USAID

Amit is an AAAS Science and Technology Fellow at USAID.  He was recently interviewed by his former colleagues at Research!America for their blog New Voice for Research.

New Voices (NV): What do you do, and why is it important?

Amit: I am a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). I am working on the development and implementation of a strategy to combat global hunger and food security. Part of my job involves communicating technical information to non-technical audiences, keeping them informed and engaged in our activities. Another part of my job is connecting research programs to country programs that may benefit from the research. More broadly, my work supports a coordinated effort across the U.S. government to sustainably reduce global poverty and hunger.

NV: What’s the most exciting part of what you do? Any particularly interesting stories?

Amit: The most exciting part of my job is getting to see the impact of our agency’s work through the real people who are impacted by it. In September 2010, I traveled to Uganda for a few weeks and provided the local government feedback on its plan to strengthen the agriculture sector and reduce hunger. I met inspirational government leaders, researchers, and farmers who all shared the goal of lifting millions of Ugandans out of poverty.

NV: What is the biggest policy issue affecting your work? Describe how you’ve dealt with it, or even advocated regarding that issue.

Amit: One of the important challenges I face is working across multiple sectors, such as food security and climate change. These two sectors are closely linked and should be addressed comprehensively for the greatest impact. At USAID, I helped create a Strategic Integration Working Group, which brings together various sectors so they can share best practices. The group has developed recommendations for USAID that can improve our work across multiple sectors.

NV: How might the public misinterpret your work? Is there anything you want to clear up?

Amit: There is a misconception that U.S. investments abroad don’t have an impact on Americans. In fact, investments in foreign assistance have a far-reaching impact that affects our own economic security and national security. Our investments in foreign assistance build allies, strengthen trade partnerships, and create opportunities for American innovators and entrepreneurs.

NV: What’s your advice for someone in science who wants to get involved in policy, advocacy or outreach?

Amit:
My advice for someone interested in science policy is to strengthen your communication skills and practice communicating with different audiences, and for different purposes. Good communication skills are an incredible asset in science policy and will make you a more effective advocate or policy-maker. Also, I recommend learning the federal budgeting process because it is extremely helpful to understand, no matter where you work in the science policy world. Finally, I would encourage you to always promote the use of science-based decision-making in the policy area.

Addressing the World’s Greatest Development Challenges

As a career Foreign Service Officer, I’ve seen many international frameworks that try to address some of the world’s greatest development challenges. It’s a tricky balance to strike—ensuring the inclusion of viewpoints from the international partners we depend on, but not losing the needed focus at the expense of broad buy-in.

Susan Reichle, Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning (far left) speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Photo credit: USAID

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released statebuilding guidance that achieves this fine balance. This guidance will help shape and improve the international community’s engagement with fragile states.

Over the past two years, USAID has been deeply involved in the development of this guidance. USAID worked closely with other OECD members to stress the important role that legitimacy plays in making governance more effective and less fragile. This idea was outlined in USAID’s 2005 “Fragile States Strategy” where concrete examples of what it means to be “legitimate” and “effective” were developed. USAID also helped the OECD to more clearly define the significance of gender roles and relations and place these at the core of how we improve state effectiveness

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to comment on the statebuilding guidance at a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). After presentations from the OECD’s Stephen Groff and CSIS’s Mark Quarterman, I became even more convinced that the guidance offers a critical framework to address fragile states, one that helps us avoid conflicting signals and wasted time when every minute counts.

Additionally, the statebuilding guidance reinforces many of the reforms we’re focused on through USAID Forward. It emphasizes the importance of evaluation, the imperative of working with local partners, and the opportunity of employing technologies like geographic information systems (GIS) to better connect and adapt our programs to changing conditions in the countries in which we work, especially in fragile states.

The statebuilding guidance also complements our broader U.S. foreign policy goals as outlined through the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD) and the Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review (QDDR). As called for in the PPD, the guidance promotes a modern aid architecture in support of common objectives, and applies a unique approach and division of labor when working in conflict affected countries. Furthermore, the guidance contributes to the development of “standing guidance and an international operational response framework to provide crisis and conflict prevention and response,” called for in the QDDR.

I am pleased with the OECD’s timely work and proud that USAID was able to play an active role in its formulation.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (2/14/2011–2/18/2011)

February 15 The New York Times and CBS Evening News reported that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Monday that proposed Republican cuts to foreign aid would hurt national security. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Clinton wrote, “Cuts of this magnitude will be devastating to our national security, will render us unable to respond to unanticipated disasters and will damage our leadership around the world.” AFP cites that Clinton added the cuts would cause the State Department and USAID “to scale back their critical roles in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

February 17 Bloomberg News wrote that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised on Wednesday to increase support to civil society activists fighting repressive governments around the world. A fund managed by USAID to protect groups from government censoring will be increased from $1.5 million to $3.4 million.

USAID’s Battleground: Expanding Access and Strengthening Health Systems

Administrator Shah: “Our experience with GHI has made it clear: our largest opportunities to improve human health do not lie in optimizing services to the 20% of people in the developing world currently reached by health systems; they lie in extending our reach to the 80% who lack access to health facilities. That is where the success of everything I’ve discussed today will be determined.  That is our battleground.  And I am proud to say: that is where USAID will lead the fight.”

Today, in a packed auditorium at NIH, Administrator Shah outlined a global health agenda around five transformational goals.  Dr. Shah believes that we can achieve the following by 2016: save the lives of over 3 million children; prevent more than 12 million HIV infections, avert 700,000 malaria deaths, ensure nearly 200,000 pregnant women can safely give birth, prevent 54 million unintended pregnancies, and cure 2.4 million people infected with TB.  To achieve these ambitious goals, he emphasized the need to strengthen health systems by empowering community health workers and midwives by equipping them with better diagnostics and treatments.

As part of the President’s Global Health Initiative, USAID helps countries integrate their health systems across WHO’s six health system “building blocks” (human resources; medical supplies, vaccines, and technology; health financing; information; leadership and governance; and service delivery) and within their national infrastructure.  Recent activities included: strengthening health care financing in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Senegal through the use of national health accounts; helping nine countries implement human resource information systems; and instituting performance assessments to raise standards for HIV services in six Central American countries.

USAID in the News

February 8, 2011: In an editorial, Voice of America writes that 50 years after USAID was created, the agency still remains a vital actor in U.S. global presence. VOA also notes that USAID “has become a quiet force for progress: preventing disease and disasters, stabilizing societies and expanding free markets, and changing with the times to best serve the people of the developing world.”

February 11, 2011: Voice of America reports that private businesses are being encouraged to assume a greater role in development efforts as part of the Obama administration’s agricultural development initiative. In an interview with Voice of America, USAID’s Greg Gottlieb, head of the food security bureau, stated that the agency is looking towards economic growth as a way to increase development. “We want to work more with the private sector than we have in the past.”

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (1/31/2011–2/4/2011)

January 31 Reuters reports that at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the world’s preeminent companies announced a major plan to invest in agriculture projects in Tanzania and Vietnam. USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah championed the plan, stating “we believe it is smarter and more efficient to support agriculture than to prevent the more costly famines, food riots and failed states that we will face if we do not make these investments.”

January 31 The Washington Post reports that new contracts from USAID have been awarded to Cardno Emerging Markets of Arlington and Chemonics of DC for professional, administrative, and management support services.

February 2 Foreign Policy’s “The Cable” blog reports that Senator Lindsey Graham, who is expected to be named the ranking Republican on Senate Appropriations’ State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, plans to “use his position…to increase State Department and USAID funding for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq and increase the civilian side of various military-civilian partnerships.” Senator Graham noted that the State Department and USAID “help win this struggle against radical Islam.”

February 3 In an editorial, Voice of America reports on USAID’s new approach to development and cites USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah’s recent speech at the Center for Global Development. During his speech, Dr. Shah said that, thanks to a series of reforms called USAID Forward, “our agency is fundamentally changing, becoming more efficient, more effective and more businesslike.” He added, “We are seeking to build something greater: a modern development enterprise.”

February 3 In a blog posted on The Huffington Post, President of the Kraft Foods Foundation Perry Yeatman supports USAID’s new reform efforts and describes how “inspired” she was by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah and his perspective on U.S. foreign assistance. Speaking at Davos, Dr. Shah said that USAID’s work is not just “from the American people” but actually “for the American people.”

February 4 The Washington Post reports that U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham could soon be in a leadership position to support USAID. Final decisions have yet to be made, but if Graham is named the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations he will be in a key position to make the case that US national security considerations
“require a fully financed diplomatic and development effort.”

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