Sixty-two million girls worldwide will not get to have their first day of kindergarten. They won’t have their parents dressing them up and walking them to school while a shiny new backpack bounces on their back. They won’t see graduation day, complete with the diploma that opens hundreds of doors for their future.
These women often times face insurmountable barriers because of their lack of education. They cannot get jobs, tend to have more children than educated women and are forced to depend on male counterparts to sustain themselves and their children.
In the U.S., the number of uneducated girls and women is noticeably smaller than the rest of the world, with 11.2 percent of female students not graduating high school. This is equivalent to about 6,094,000 students out of 55,400,000 students nationwide, or about 8,362 students in Dane County.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama made it her priority to spread the gift of education to women worldwide through the “Let Girls Learn” program, an initiative founded in March 2015. Let Girls Learn brings together multiple branches of the U.S. government, including the Department of State, and international organizations such as the Peace Corps, to provide the opportunity for education to at least a fraction of the 62 million girls worldwide who heretofore have not had that opportunity.
Over the course of two years, Obama’s initiative spread its sphere of influence to 35 countries, including places that see some of the highest rates of females who do not attend school, prodded the World Bank Group to invest $2.5 billion over the next five years in education programs for young women and in drawing attention to an issue that plagues the majority of developing nations.
Things were going swimmingly with the initiative until President Donald Trump decided that educating millions of young women worldwide was a bad idea. In an email released by CNN on May 1, employees at Let Girls Learn were told to stop referring to the initiative as such, and that the program itself would cease to exist in the near future.
“Moving forward, we will not continue to use the ‘Let Girls Learn’ brand or maintain a stand-alone program,” wrote the agency’s acting Director Sheila Crowley.
The White House, including Trump, have maintained that there have not been any changes to Let Girls Learn, however, they have not come out in support of the initiative, nor have they cemented its future as a standalone program. Therefore, the future of Obama’s legacy rests on the Trump administration’s willingness to protect a right that should be guaranteed to women, something the administration does not have a particularly great track record with thus far.
Let Girls Live and other initiatives that focus on improving the opportunity for women to obtain an education, as well as the quality of that education, should be something that any president or politician stands behind, regardless of their party affiliations.
Educating women is beneficial for the economy, lowers birth rates in developing countries and ensures that women can be active participants in their community’s workforce. Education frees women from needing to rely on abusive, unkind relationships or men they don’t love for a steady income.
I firmly believe the United States does not have any business sticking its nose in conflicts in countries or trying to impose its “values” on people who do not share them. But when it comes to education, I stand behind Obama’s initiative because this is not an interpretable value, but a right that all women should have.
I can see the benefits that educating women has in my life, in my community and on a global scale. Growing up, I was surrounded by educated women: my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, teachers at school. As a teacher herself, my mother has worked for the past 20 years to ensure that the future of her students is as wide open as it can be.
There was never a doubt in my mind, or in theirs, of the importance of education for my own future, as well as for the future of other children.
Here at the University of Wisconsin, thousands of women are given the opportunity to further their own education at a world-renowned institution. The quality and quantity of knowledge female students gain sitting in lecture halls across campus provide them with opportunities for their future that the 11.2 percent of uneducated women in the U.S. and the 62 million uneducated women worldwide will probably never have.
While the future of Let Girls Learn hangs in the balance, I simply ask that the Trump administration look at the young women in their lives whom they love, and ask themselves what their futures would be like without any opportunity for education.
My bet: they wouldn’t like what they see.
Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in international studies and intending to major in journalism.