As I read about the Trump administration’s plans to scrap former first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let Girls Learn” program, I found myself reacting in what has sadly become a familiar way—with a sigh of disbelief. On Monday CNN reported that an internal memo was sent by Peace Corp director Sheila Crowley stating, “Moving forward, we will not continue to use the Let Girls Learn brand or maintain a stand-alone program.” By Monday night the State Department was denying any changes to the program, but at the very least the memo showed the White House was considering a change. It really does seem like the actions of the president and his administration are often based on an insatiable hatred of former president Barack Obama and his administration, coupled with an innate nastiness towards programs that work to help disadvantaged people.
The Let Girls Learn program was introduced in 2015 by Michelle Obama as a response to insurmountable challenges for girls to attain some form of education. In a climate where girls and adolescents face “financial, cultural, and physical barriers” to attain an education, it’s important to understand just why (besides the obvious) it’s important for young girls around the world to be educated.
When girls remain uneducated and poor, their chances of being trafficked surge. Trump himself, along with many right-wing media outlets, has repeatedly underlined his desire to eradicate the “epidemic” of human trafficking. He’s also stated his dislike for foreign aid, but doesn’t seem to understand that programs that help young girls and adolescents learn could actually alleviate the need for foreign aid in the long run, with more educated girls showing a decrease in child mortality, as well as a vast reduction of poverty in less economically developed countries (LEDCs). Small measures like Let Girls Learn can plant the seed for future growth in LEDCs, reducing the need for massive assistance measures while also subverting corrupt governments with no intention of distributing aid to regions that need it. Countries that experienced a 10 percent increase in girls attending schools saw an average 3 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP), which in turn helps citizens prosper and in the long run may eliminate the need for foreign aid. In addition, an increase in GDP has a direct correlation to a decrease in refugees, and we all know how much the president loathes refugees.
Remember how “brave” Trump was during his campaign when he used the term “radical, Islamic terrorism”? His detest for terrorism is clear, and he built his campaign around the fear many people harbor of something that, thanks to the US intelligence community, has less chance of killing them than a heat wave. Still, terrorism must be eliminated because no human being should be subjected to violence at the behest of a radicalized individual. All the reasons stated above—human trafficking, child mortality, and poverty—all increase the prevalence of fundamentalism. Emphasizing girls education programs that increase social equality means fewer children in regions where fundamentalism is prevalent; more equality means less terrorism.
Educating girls can provide so much more than eradicating terrorism and helping to alleviate foreign aid. As the standard-bearers of freedom and equality, it is imperative that we encourage and promote equality in the classroom, bringing young boys up in a society than views girls as more than second-class citizens. Having an educated mother respected by her husband will help enforce that viewpoint. Such social change may instigate policy change, where women may be allowed to drive or vote in many countries where it is currently not permitted. This would also lead to more equal political representation, giving women around the world a voice in the policies that shape their lives. Again, as the standard-bearers of democracy around the world, such encouragement is necessary on our part.
Programs like Let Girls Learn instigate change in regions that badly need it, helping 62 million adolescent girls attend or stay in school. Perhaps most infuriating about the idea of dropping it is that the Let Girls Learn program costs just $27 million, an amount that could easily be transferred if Melania Trump decided to live in Washington for two months. I’m just glad there’s a progressive voice for women in the White House, Ivanka Trump, who must have stepped in to protect the program. Or was she off skiing again?