A Freer, Fairer World Demands Equal Rights for Women and Girls

By Nora O’Connell, Vice President, Public Policy and Advocacy

America was built on the ideal of equality. As our nation has strived to build that more perfect union at home, those efforts have also inspired advancements in gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment around the world.   U.S. investments in gender equality and girls’ rights around the world are critical to not only creating a more just and equal world; they are also critical to achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives, strengthening global stability, achieving universal human rights, and increasing economic opportunities abroad and at home.

Girls the world over struggle to succeed, despite violence and discrimination. Many face barriers to growing up healthy, educated, and protected, preventing them from reaching their full potential. Early evidence and expert projections show that COVID-19 is making women and girls even more vulnerable due to spikes in gender-based violence across the globe. COVID-19-closures and lockdowns are isolating women and children with abusers, cutting them off from formal and informal protection systems. Such containment measures are also increasing economic insecurity and food and water shortages.

Save the Children now estimates that the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 alone could put an additional 500,000 girls at risk of child marriage this year. An additional 2.5 million girls will be at risk of child marriage over the next five years—potentially reversing 25 years of progress toward ending this exploitative practice. Many will not return to school.

Empowered girls become empowered women.  Every woman—when she is ready—deserves an opportunity to choose if, and when, she marries. Girls and women controlling their own destinies helps increase women’s political participation, making governments more stable, responsive to citizens, better able to achieve peace. Moreover, when adolescent girls are active in civic spaces, they become drivers of positive change now and in the future.

Empowering women makes financial sense, too. Gender balanced workplaces could double global GDP growth by 2025. A 2017 World Bank study found that global gains from ending child marriage could reach more than $500 billion per year, and the benefits of ending all adolescent childbirth could exceed $700 billion per year by 2030.   

We urge the new Administration in its first 100 days of office to prioritize the following key actions:

  • First, launch a global adolescent girls’ initiative that addresses unique risks to girls such as gender-based violence and loss of education as well as advances girls’ leadership and political participation as well as economic opportunity. Support passage of the Girls LEAD Act to ensure the sustainability of these investments.
  • Second, develop a state-of-the-art Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and strengthen gender program staffing, analysis, and program data collection across all USAID bureaus and missions.
  • Third, request authorization of significant funding for advancing gender equality globally as part of a robust funding request for international assistance in the President’s Budget Request.
  • Lastly, demonstrate U.S. leadership in the international community on gender equality and girls’ rights with high-level leadership at the global “Generation Equality Forum” focusing on women’s and girls’ rights, and making strong commitments to ending child marriage and investing in adolescent girls in the resulting five-year action plan. 


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