WASHINGTON — As the parents of two teenage daughters, the Obamas know the potential of young girls.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama unveiled an initiative to promote education opportunities for adolescent girls worldwide.
The first couple announced the proposal — called “Let Girls Learn” — at the White House and called for cooperation among government agencies to expand on the successes they have achieved in global primary school education.
“Even today, in too many parts of the world, girls are valued more for their bodies than for their minds,” Obama said. “It’s not just antiquated, it’s not just bad strategy … it is just plain wrong and we have to do more to stop it.”
More than 60 million girls worldwide are not in school and “have diminished economic opportunities and are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, early and forced marriage, and other forms of violence,” according to an Obama administration statement. Let Girls Learn works with communities in developing countries to try to ensure these girls have access to school and stay with their studies.
“That’s not by accident,” Obama said of the lack of opportunity. “It’s the direct result of barriers, large and small, that stand in the way of girls that want to learn.”
The program was launched last summer by the Agency for International Development, in collaboration with the White House, Peace Corps and State Department. The Peace Corps will deploy 7,000 volunteers to build local capacity through “targeted training” in developing countries.
“I’m proud to say that the United States already does a great deal to support girls’ education around the world,” the president said. “But what we do, we tend to do quietly. It doesn’t get a lot of publicity. What we determined is that we have to take this work to the next level.”
The Obamas’ were joined by senior advisors Valerie Jarrett and Susan Rice, as well as Reps. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and Kay Granger, R-Texas.
The program will grow in phases, beginning with 11 countries in its first year. It will elevate existing programs, including those in areas of conflict and crisis, and leverage public and private sector partners, according to the White House.
“These girls know they have the spark of something extraordinary inside them but too often that spark is snuffed out by circumstances of their birth or the norms of their communities,” the first lady said.
Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said “every girl matters, and when she is given the opportunity to get an education, everyone in her life benefits.
“Peace Corps volunteers live and work at the grassroots level and develop strong relationships with local change-makers.”
The first lady is expected to promote the initiative in her trip to Japan and Cambodia later this month.