ChildFund and Save the Children celebrated the reintroduction of the bipartisan Girls LEAD Act in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The Girls LEAD (Leadership, Engagement, Agency, and Development) Act promotes girls’ leadership and participation in civic and political processes through U.S. foreign assistance. The bill was introduced by Sens. Collins (R-ME) and Cardin (D-MD) and Congressman Trone (D-MD) and Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).
“We know that girls understand best what they not only need to survive, but to thrive,” said Save the Children CEO Janti Soeripto. “We must listen to and empower girls so they can be a force of change in their own communities. The Girls LEAD Act is an important step in recognizing girls as agents of change and ensuring their meaningful engagement in U.S. development programming.”
Too often, girls face systemic barriers to civic and political participation because of their age and gender. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.
“Most of U.S. foreign assistance programming for girls focuses on ensuring their access to health, education and entrepreneurship opportunities but fails to educate them about their roles as citizens with unique strengths and wisdom to shape the systems and policies that affect them,” says Anne Lynam Goddard, President and CEO of ChildFund. “Until programs and funding aiming to bolster democracies and civic participation worldwide include girls, they will continue to fall short.”
Gender equality and full political participation are key to sustaining healthy democracies and maintaining global stability—where women’s political participation leads to tangible gains such as increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines and more sustainable peace.
“Despite comprising more than 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision-making,” said Senator Collins. “The Girls LEAD Act would complement Congress’ efforts to combat this issue by specifically addressing the civic involvement and leadership of adolescent girls, an area where there is currently a gap in U.S. foreign assistance programing.”
“When women are in leadership positions around the world, we are better for it. Over this past year, we have seen the immense contributions of women leaders who have taken swift, decisive action in the face of COVID-19 to protect communities in the face of an unprecedented crisis,” said Congressman Trone. “This bipartisan bill prioritizes investment in girls’ interaction with civic systems at an early age, creating a strong pipeline for girls to become leaders and decision-makers for years to come. I want to thank Representative McMorris Rodgers and Senators Cardin and Collins for partnering in this bipartisan, bicameral effort on International Women’s Day.”
Specifically, the legislation:
“By giving girls more opportunity to impact the decisions that affect their daily lives, communities can become more responsive and inclusive to all their citizens’ needs. Empowering girls will lead to a generation of empowered women who have the tools to make their families and their countries better,” said Senator Cardin. “On this International Women’s Day, I am proud to announce the Girls LEAD Act with my Senate and House colleagues.”
Prioritizing pathways to leadership for adolescent girls is all the more pressing as the COVID-19 pandemic directly impacts girls’ ability to thrive in and contribute to society. Pandemic-related school closures and economic impacts have pushed nearly 743 million girls out of school and left millions more at increased risk of violence and exploitation.
“When women engage, democracies are stronger, foreign aid is more effective, and the world is safer. A truly representative government relies on the voices of all its citizens, no matter their background or walk of life,” said Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers. “The bipartisan Girls LEAD Act highlights the importance of engaging girls in civics and public service. This will help build a stronger pipeline for young women to run for political office and encourage them to seek leadership positions in the private sector. With more women empowered, it will support a new generation of transformational leaders in democracies around the world.”
The act will enact reforms across USAID and the Department of State to ensure that girls are supported to be able to meaningfully engage in civic and political forums and processes in their communities and countries. It would require a coordinated strategy and implementation plan for increasing girls’ civic participation from the two agencies and mandate a publicly available annual report on progress made by those U.S. government agencies in implementing this strategy.
Save the Children and ChildFund celebrate the support for the Girls LEAD Act from Church World Service, Futures Without Violence, Global Campaign for Education-US, The Hunger Project, International Action Network for Gender Equity and Law (IANGEL), Kakenya’s Dream, and the National Association of Social Workers.