The Girls LEAD Act would help ensure that U.S. foreign assistance programs create opportunities for girls.
For decades, Save the Children has been a leader in child rights and participation. We’ve supported kids all over the world and advocated for issues that affect them. We’ve helped amplify their voices in civic and political spaces like schools, government offices and even global forums like the United Nations. Time and time again, we’ve seen how children’s unique perspectives can help shape polices for the better. Children deserve a seat at the table. It is their right and they truly have something to say that can make positive change in their community and nation.
Sadly, not every child has equal access, resources or support to make their voices heard. Girls in particular are frequently excluded due to their gender. For example, they are more likely than boys to be victims of gender-based violence, such as child marriage. When a girl is married, she is less likely to complete her education. This robs her of the skills and knowledge that would allow her to participate fully in society.
All of this means that girls live in a world where often their opinions aren’t heard. And if these challenges go unaddressed, girls are less likely to reach their full potential and take on leadership roles in their communities.
It’s time to change the status quo.
The Girls LEAD Act
In order to better understand this problem, Save the Children has worked with partners around the world and spoken with democracy and governance experts. They all stressed how important it is for more girls and women to be in leadership positions. Higher levels of gender equality will result in more inclusive, and therefore stronger, democracies.
Our next step was to find out what is holding girls back and research how to break down those barriers. Since the United States is the largest provider of foreign assistance in the world, we started there. We looked closely at the United States’ role and were surprised to see that there is a significant gap in the way U.S. foreign aid addresses girls’ leadership and participation.
We found that most U.S.-supported programs that focus on democracy and civic participation do not teach girls how to engage in political or civic processes. If girls are not supported to use their voice or given the opportunity to do so, they will be left behind. It’s critical that we not only help them overcome their barriers, but also work to transform the systems and communities that exclude them.
This idea is what led to the creation of the Girls Leadership, Agency, Engagement and Development Act, or the Girls LEAD Act. If passed, this legislation would help ensure that U.S. foreign assistance programs create opportunities for girls to meaningfully engage in civic and political processes in their countries. More specifically, it would enhance programming—taking into account best practices observed by Save the Children—so that girls can build their leadership skills and knowledge.
Building a global voice for girls
So why is the Girls LEAD Act so important?
Childhood is an extremely formative time. It’s when people develop feelings of confidence and value. Yet sadly, research has shown that girls as young as 6 have been impacted by gender discrimination and harmful gender stereotypes, and it’s lowered their level of ambition and self-confidence. It’s also made them more vulnerable to safety and health risks.
It’s crucial that we make a change, and that change starts with listening. Girls are the experts of their own experiences, priorities and needs. When they add their perspectives, it strengthens communities and builds a brighter future for everyone. Research shows that higher levels of gender equality can lead to more peace, security and lower levels of aggression toward other states. Moreover, evidence suggests that gender equality in politics promotes gender balance in the workforce, which leads to healthier economies.
In short, when women and girls are able to take on leadership roles, we all benefit. But that all begins with investing in girls. They are the key to a more equal world, and they’re ready to make change. It’s time to help them lead!
Editor’s note: This blog is part of a series that will run throughout the month of March to highlight our Girls Lead Month of Action. See additional blogs below.
Girls Taking the Lead – by Sarah Poetzschke
Across the globe, women and girls are standing up to discrimination and determining their own futures. Here are a few examples of girls leading the way for change.
Girls: Raise Your Hands – by Meghan Pallardy
In a world where it can seem impossible for women and girls to get a seat at the table, the reminder to advocate for yourself and others can go a long way.
#LEADLikeAGirl: A Q&A with 3 of our Student Ambassadors – by Morgan Moran
SCAN asked 3 outstanding Student Ambassadors to give their perspectives on the challenges girls face today. Here are their responses.