USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Michelle Bekkerings's Remarks at the Together for Girls Event

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Embassy of Canada to the United States
Washington, DC

MICHELLE BEKKERING:  Well, Daniela, thank you for that warm welcome, and to Deputy Ambassador Hillman, to Madame Trudeau, and the government of Canada for hosting us here today.  I would be remiss if I didn't say happy belated Canadian Thanksgiving.

That was on Monday.  And in a spirit of fostering the bilateral relations she mentioned, I should say that I am married to a Canadian -- so I think I have done my part today for world peace.

And again, Daniela, thank you for the warm invitation.  So, I am just delighted to be here today, on the International Day of the Girl, and I'm so proud to reaffirm USAID's commitment to empowering girls around the world.  

On the International Day of the Girl, and every day, USAID works across sectors to address the barriers that stop girls from reaching their full potential.  Through our programs, we are working to ensure brighter futures for girls everywhere.

We want every girl to go to school, to live in a home and community free from violence, and receive the care that she needs to grow healthy and strong.  We believe that a girl's future should not be determined by her sex and by the gender stereotypes that society puts on her.  She should be defined by her access to opportunities and resources that she needs to succeed.

At USAID, we are determined to break down the barriers that keep girls from learning and from leading. Today, I would like to talk about two of these specific barriers: first, the challenges that girls encounter in crisis situations, such as conflict and natural disasters; and second, child, early, and forced marriages.

Each year as a result of crisis and conflict, we've seen more than 75 million children, age three to 18 around the world, are not receiving the education that they need.  Schools, books, and materials are destroyed, and children are forced to leave their homes and their communities.  Because the average duration of displacement is 20 years, many children will spend their entire childhood outside of the traditional classroom.

We encourage you to really think about that, and the Deputy Ambassador remarked earlier about the -- what we call the youth bulge in the largest generation of young people we have around the world.  And think of the staggering statistics -- especially if that's you, if you are not having these opportunities for education.

And we know, unfortunately, that crises, disproportionately affect girls when it comes to education.  In conflict-afflicted countries, adolescent girls are almost 90 percent more likely to be out of secondary school than their peers--young women in other countries.

USAID's education programs ensure that girls can safely and equitably access education, despite their situation, despite crisis -- that they can catch up on lost years of learning. They can learn to read, and they can obtain the skills that they need to get jobs or improve their livelihoods.

For example, when civil war erupted in South Sudan, Nyaradio was 15 years old.  The civil war resulted in her family and her four -- her parents and her four siblings having to flee their village and community and move into a UN compound in Juba.  

Nyaradio, fortunately, has access in this compound to education, and since then has completed grade eight at the Hope Primary School.  This school is run by UNICEF, with support from USAID.  And because of this school, we see a young woman living in civil war have hope.

We talked to Nyaradio; she tells us she's excited about her opportunities to study, that she has hope for her future, that she wants to continue to go to high school and someday be a journalist.

As part of the Back to Learning Initiative, USAID support has, since the war began in South Sudan, helped UNICEF to enroll nearly 130,000 South Sudanese children and adolescents in schools.  We've also helped establish 629 temporary learning spaces to make sure that these children aren't lost and that their education can continue.

USAID helps children like Nyaradio go to school or return to school.  We train teachers, we provide textbooks, and we establish reading programs.  We also work to support critical psychosocial support and protection services to children.  Working with their parents to help them support their children, and understanding the importance of education.

However, we cannot talk about empowering girls without addressing the issue of child, early, and forced marriage.  This is a human rights violation and it is an impediment to sustainable development.  Child marriage stifles a girl's ability to grow into an empowered woman who can make decisions for herself, her family, and her community, and pursue opportunities.  At USAID, we're working to prevent and respond to child, early, and forced marriage.

One of the ways we can do this is by creating safe educational spaces for girls.  These schools can change the lives of students like Qismat Rani, a young girl living in a small village in Pakistan.  After finishing elementary school, Qismat had nowhere to go.  Like many villages, her village only had one school for girls, and it stopped offering classes for girls once they reached fifth grade. Unfortunately, like so many girls in our world, lacking other opportunities, Qismat was married at the age of 14 to a much older man.

To address the needs for options and opportunities and secondary education for girls in villages like Qismat, USAID supported the creation of 33 schools that would service the needs of education for girls between 11 and 19 years of age.  These schools provide girls with opportunities to learn, which can lead to better jobs and a better life.  Qismat enrolled in a new school that USAID supported in her village, and it gave her hope as well.  She now has dreams for her own future, dreams that have to do with furthering her education and getting a job someday so that she can support herself and her family.

Programs such as the one in Qismat's village give girls access to safe, quality education, and they can both physically protect girls while enabling their families to feel more secure that their daughters do have a future.  

At USAID, we know that when we invest in girls and young women and address the barriers that keep them from learning and leading; you are creating a multiplier effect. Girls who are educated tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labor market, earn more income, marry at a later age, and provide better healthcare and education to their own children. When we empower girls, we accelerate progress toward a safer, more prosperous world.

So, this International Day of the Girl, I want to leave you with this charge: be inspired.

Be inspired by the girls in your life that you love, by the girls the legislation you write is designed to protect, by the girls whom your programs are designed to empower.  But do not become complacent.  With every year we gain more success, and we meet our objectives, but our work will not be done until every girl around the world is able to wake up -- wake up knowing that she is loved, that she is equal, and that she has every opportunity at her fingertips.

Thank you.

Last updated: October 15, 2018

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