What Do Two First Ladies Agree On? Elevating Girls’ Education

March 10, 2016 By Sung Lee

 This week – with International Women’s Day on Tuesday – two of America’s First Ladies made the case that elevating girls’ education is a strategic investment.

Former first lady Laura Bush spoke out on the need to sustain our development assistance efforts to educate Afghan women and girls, while First Lady Michelle Obama emphasized how education can help lift women and girls out of poverty as she announced the expansion of Let Girls Learn initiative.

We all know the ability to read, write, speak, and listen is critical in every aspect of our lives, but at least 250 million primary school age children around the world are unable to read and write, and more than 60 million girls are not even in schools, robbed of an education and an opportunity to reach their full potential.

Education Helps Transform Lives

The facts are clear. Educated girls are more likely to marry later, earn a decent living, raise a healthy family, and improve the quality of life for her family, for her nation, and for the world. Moreover, every year of school education increases a girl’s future earning power up to 25 percent.

Launched by First Lady Michelle Obama, Let Girls Learn is a whole-of government initiative to help increase access to girls’ education. Last year alone, Peace Corp volunteers have helped over 82,000 girls participate in youth empowerment activities in over 60 countries. In Liberia, America has been helping 7,000 girls stay in primary schools. And building on the resources allocated during the George W. Bush Administration, USAID continues to provide young Afghan women and girls educational opportunities and safe learning environment to help transform their lives.


School girls in Afghanistan’s rural Uruzgan province.

In Afghanistan, more than 3 million girls are now enrolled in primary schools, women hold 69 seats in parliament, and thousands of women entrepreneurs are helping to move the country forward. Empowering Afghan women and girls is a great example of American foreign aid that has been extraordinarily effective.

Education is Smart Economics

Michelle Obama announced a new partnership with America’s leading businesses, including Procter & Gamble, JetBlue, and Salesforce, to expand Let Girls Learn to 23 new countries. With more than $600 million committed toward global girls education programs by the governments of Japan, South Korea, and the UK, this new partnership will give women across the world more opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive.

Lack of education and training is one of the reasons women only generate 37 percent of global GDP, despite making up almost half of the global labor force. But if we close this gender gap, more than $28 trillion could be added to global annual GDP by 2025. That means more consumers, dollars, and opportunities for American companies.

President Obama’s FY17 International Affairs Budget requested more than $100 million in new funds to support women and adolescent girls worldwide. Let’s celebrate America’s leadership breaking down gender barriers and ensuring equitable access to education. But more importantly, let’s keep the momentum going toward bridging the gender and education gaps, so we can build a more prosperous America and a safer world.

Photo: Source, USAID