Remarks by USAID Acting Administrator Gloria Steele at the Save the Children "Girls Leading a More Equal World” Event

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Monday, March 8, 2021

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR STEELE: Good afternoon, everyone. It's a great honor to be with such an esteemed group today celebrating International Women's Day. I want to thank Save the Children and ChildFund International for hosting us, but would also like to acknowledge the presence of Senator Collins, Senator Cardin, Congressman Trone, and Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers. We, at USAID, greatly appreciate your strong support for the empowerment of women and children around the world.

I'm also happy to see the presence of Proctor and Gamble. At USAID, we believe that the private sector plays a very important role in lifting people out of poverty.

Every year, on March 8th, we celebrate the extraordinary achievements of women and girls globally. Earlier this year, the United States swore in the first female Vice President in our nation's history. Today, there are 22 female heads of state and heads of government around the world. However, March 8th also reminds us of the significant amount of work that needs to be done to address the obstacles that women and girls face. All over the world, for example, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation for women as mothers, caregivers, professionals, entrepreneurs, and all the other roles that they play.

I want to talk today about USAID's commitment to empowering young girls to take charge of their own destinies, including what we call our “whole-of-girl” approach. USAID lays the foundation for girls to become active leaders in their communities. We do this by creating better access for them to quality education and by removing political and cultural barriers to their full participation in their society. Our approach is embedded in a broader U.S. government-wide strategy to ensure that girls are educated, healthy, free from fear, violence and discrimination. We, the United States, are the only donor country with a standalone strategy for empowering adolescent girls.

Women and girls are directly affected by the decisions made by leaders, but their voices often go unheard, and their distinct needs are often overlooked. It is important that we elevate their voices in decision making and support their agency over their own lives. When women and girls are empowered to make their own choices, they stay in school longer, they are healthier, they marry later, and they are more likely to participate in the formal economy. We know that today's girls are tomorrow's mothers and leaders, so all of these benefits have a compounding effect in generations to come.

USAID's assistance plays a key role in improving girls’ lives from the day they are born to the day they reach adulthood. It's what we call our “whole-of-girl” approach. Our programs are tailored to meet their specific needs at different stages of their development. Our programs increase girls and women's access to quality education in all areas, including science, mathematics, and technology. Their access to education is one of the most powerful forces for promoting economic development, prosperity, and security. As we all know, education provides sustained and lifelong positive impacts for everyone.

A great example of USAID's work is Joynur’s story in Bangladesh. Joynur’s mom never had the chance to continue her education past the fifth grade, and she married very early at age 14. But, she knew the value of education and she knew she wanted a better life for her children. So, she instilled the love of learning in her daughter Joynur. Joynur loved to read and her desire to learn burned bright. However, she didn't have enough books to learn from. So, USAID set up a reading corner in Joynur’s classroom so that she and her classmates could have more engaging books to read.

By investing in girls' education, USAID is preparing them to be tomorrow's leaders and strong forces in building more stable and democratic societies. We also focus on reducing girls' vulnerability and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Every year, at least 12 million girls are married before they turn 18. These girls are often robbed of their ability to make their own decisions and to fully participate in the economic, political, and societal processes in their communities. USAID's approach works with local governments, civil society, and religious leaders to strengthen local laws and raise public awareness about these harmful cultural practices. We are doing this, for example, in Kenya, where we are engaging clans and clan leaders to change attitudes and norms around early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. So far, we have reached 40 clans across the country and are working to prevent some of the most prevalent forms of gender-based violence against girls in this region.

In this day and age of modern technology, we see enormous gaps in digital access by marginalized populations, including women and girls. Without access, they are deprived of educational, health, and business opportunities, among others. Women who have digital access can sometimes face significant dangers. Nearly three quarters of women and children online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence. USAID's strategy underscores our commitment to closing the gender divide and to addressing the disproportionate harm that women and girls face online.

In closing, we all know that women can be powerful drivers of positive change and a more equal world. USAID's programs create an enabling environment for them to reach their full potential in playing this role. In so doing, we're setting them up to be the civic, business, and political leaders for this generation and the next generations to come. USAID is proud to be investing in the lives of this critical segment of the world's population. Again, thank you so much for inviting me to join you here today.

Last updated: April 15, 2021

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