In 2015, Michelle Obama led the “Let Girls Learn” United States initiative to promote girls’ access to education in impoverished countries. Today, Trump ended that program, effective immediately.
This cut is not only disheartening, but this is a grave mistake that will impact the millions of children whose lives were enriched by this program. Investing in girls’ education not only grows economies, but it also prevents child marriage, domestic abuse, STDs, poverty, and underage pregnancies. Let Girls Learn consumed only 0.7% of the national budget, costing the U.S. $27 million and $20 million in private donations. Through international partnerships, promotion on a global scale and encouraging the private sector to pledge to girls’ education, Let Girls Learn was able to accumulate billions in additional private sector investments.
On the two year anniversary of the Nigerian school girl abduction from terrorists Boko Haram, the World Bank Group announced with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle that they would invest $2.5 billion over 5 years “in education projects directly benefitting adolescent girls.”
LetGirlsLearn.gov reads, “USAID announced a commitment of $25 million through Let Girls Learn to help sustain a teacher apprenticeship program in Afghanistan for adolescent girls” on July 7, 2016.
Michelle Obama was behind the partnership with the U.K. and USAID to allocate their funds to benefit 750,000 adolescent girls. Let Girls Learn championed countless private efforts relating to educational access through their advocacy and leadership.
The Trump Administration’s warped idea of “fiscal conservatism” has not only become a stain of intellectual inconsistency, but it has now become costly to the children who so desperately rely on it. One would have expected greater priorities from Budget Director and deficit hawk Mick Mulvaney. While Trump could be focusing on cutting back public spending through entitlements, Social Security, and healthcare (which he has repeatedly failed to do), he is instead focusing on life-changing programs that cost a miniscule amount of money—worse yet, programs that have a genuinely good impact on the world. A true fiscal conservative should not find it an urgent, “immediate” priority to cut a program that costs 0.7% of the budget while simultaneously pushing for a 10% increase in defense spending, a 7% increase to Homeland Security, or a $20 billion dollar wall (yes, billion).
According to the Malala Fund, investing in women’s’ education by 1% has the potential to increase economic growth by 0.3%, and increasing the number of people with strong literacy and numeric abilities can improve their economies by a further 2%.
Girls with no education are 6x more likely to be married off as children, and maternal/infant mortality rates also have deep ties to the mother’s education level.
Educated mothers “have fewer pregnancies, are less likely to give birth as teenagers, and are better able to seek and negotiate life-saving health care for themselves and their young children.” There is a 49% decrease in deaths when the mother has completed secondary education, as compared to a 10% decrease with just primary school.
These are among the countless instances of education literally saving the lives of impoverished young girls who would otherwise deprived of it.
The Trump Administration needs to reevaluate their fiscal priorities. Instead of targeting a program that produces positive change and shapes the futures of millions, he should be focusing on actual financial burdens. In a world where 65 million young girls are denied the access to an education, Michelle Obama was right to make this issue a priority during her time as First Lady, and its end will have devastating consequences.