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Uplifting Girls: Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act

Protecting Girls’ Access to EducationThe evidence is overwhelming that education is pivotal in the fight to alleviate global poverty. Simultaneously, poverty remains the most significant factor in determining whether girls can access education. The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act aims to resolve the cycle of deprivation that affects 121 million children that are not in school. Of these children living in crisis and conflict-affected countries, 98 million are girls.

In addition to reducing poverty, education improves the lives of displaced children and girls by significantly reducing their exposure to human trafficking and extremist ideology. Protecting girls’ access to education offers the best hope of breaking the cycle of female deprivation in poverty-stricken countries.

Education is a priority for displaced children and girls and it needs to become a priority
in U.S. legislation. Despite the fact that the world is facing its largest population of displaced people since the end of World War II, less than 2 percent of global emergency aid was allotted to educational services in 2016.

Recurring conflict and increasing numbers of displaced children and girls require more action. While there are many efforts to provide universal primary and secondary education to boys and girls alike, there are 80 countries around the world in which progress on girls’ education is severely lagging behind. The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act will prioritize and advance these ongoing efforts in the hope of ending this global stall on girls’ education.

Although girls have high academic aspirations, conflict continues to threaten the advancement of their education. The largest gender gaps exist in girls’ education in the most impoverished nations and among displaced populations. Girls who face multiple disadvantages should not also be deprived one of their most vital and inalienable rights.

According to a study of U.S. public attitudes on foreign aid, 90 percent of people agreed that the U.S. should increase support for programs to give girls in developing countries the same access to primary and secondary education as boys have. It is time for U.S. legislation to mirror this belief; one way this is possible is through the Protecting Girl’s Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act.

The official language of this bipartisan bill explains its aims to “enhance the transparency, improve the coordination, and intensify the impact of assistance to support access to primary and secondary education for displaced children and persons, including women and girls.”

The legislation’s design is fourfold:

  • To prioritize and advance ongoing efforts to expand access to education for displaced children and girls
  • To coordinate with multilateral organizations to collect data on the ability of displaced children and girls to access education as to continually improve assistance efforts
  • To promote safe primary and secondary education for displaced children and girls through cooperation with private sector and civil society organizations
  • To coordinate with governments of host countries to promote the inclusion of displaced children and girls into their education systems and develop new approaches (e.g. extending school hours, increasing amount of teachers) when inclusion is not possible.

The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act can be shortened
to “Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act” and has been introduced as legislation in both the House (H.R. 2408) and the Senate (S. 1580). Together the bills have received the great support of 46 cosponsors, all pushing for the legislation to be enacted into law.

“Education is one of the key components in helping lift this most vulnerable population
out of the depths of poverty and the difficult circumstances that they are facing,” Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) explained at the Foreign Affairs Committee markup of H.R. 2408. “It’s our responsibility as leaders of the free world to step up and ensure that education is accessible to all.”

H.R. 2408 was unanimously passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 27, 2017. Only about one in four bills are reported out of committee, making this a noteworthy success. Committee members have brought the bill one step closer to protecting girls’ access to education. There are many more steps in the lawmaking process and continued bipartisan support is imperative for the advancement of this legislation.

Jamie Enright

Photo: Flickr