Imagine a girl. She is sitting at her desk in a one-room schoolhouse. She loves school, excels at learning and dreams of starting her own business one day. But when she turns 12 years old, her parents can no longer afford her school fees and she has to drop out of school. What happens to this little girl?
In America, there are easy answers for this question. But this little girl lives in Eastern Africa and the answers aren't simple there. With no other option, this girl joins the 62 million girls around the world who aren't in school. She is forced into marriage at the age of 13 and has her first baby at 14 years old. During her first five years of marriage she has 2 more children, becomes a repeated victim of gender-based violence and contracts HIV.
This story isn't unique. It is tragically the same story that has happened to hundreds of thousands of girls who were robbed of their future because they didn't have the opportunity to get the education they deserved. An education that would have given them the knowledge and tools needed to become confident and self-sufficient women.
Now imagine this girl didn't have to drop out of school. She had finished her secondary education and then went on to college. She was a role model and mentor for young girls. Other girls stayed in school because of the example she set for them. She got married and had kids when she was ready and all of her children got an education. This girl began a ripple effect that changed the future of her village and country.
This story and the thousands of other ones like this are the reason why the "Let Girls Learn" initiative is vital to equalizing the gender parity that exists around the world. In Africa, 28 million girls are not in school. It is a heartbreaking statistic that in Eastern Africa, girls are more likely to become child brides than complete eighth grade. There are nine million girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who will never learn to read or write. Without programs like "Let Girls Learn" these statistics will not change.
Studies have shown that educating a girl is one of the most cost-effective ways to promote development and economic growth in a country. Educated girls are less likely to experience sexual violence, be forced to marry against their will, and have unplanned pregnancies. They are more likely to earn an income, have healthy babies and instill in their children the value of an education.
Dismantling a program like Let Girls Learn is fundamentally flawed and will have serious implications. Imagine the possibilities if we can bring education to each and every girl. Opening the doors to education will help break the poverty cycle, reduce gender-based violence and diminish HIV and STD rates. It will prepare the next generation of women to make a difference.
Discounting Let Girls Learn also sends a dangerous message to developing countries that look to America as an example of how we value girls' education. If America is no longer interested in helping girls around the world receive an education, then why should anyone else care? If America's leaders can turn their backs on 62 million girls then other leaders will do the same.
An educated girl can and will change the world if they are given an opportunity to learn. We must ensure that the next generation of women are given the chance to receive a quality education and fulfill their dreams. This can only be accomplished if programs such as Let Girls Learn are given the necessary resources to continue the important work that they do everyday.
Erna Grasz is CEO and Founder of Asante Africa Foundation.
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