More than 60 million girls around the world are not in school. President and Mrs. Obama announced the launch of a new partnership with the Peace Corps Tuesday, an initiative aimed at closing the education gap between girls and boys in schools worldwide called Let Girls Learn.
The program will begin in 11 countries.
“You have told me that whatever obstacles these girls face — whether it’s school fees, or violence or cultural beliefs that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education — you’ve said that these problems will not be fixed from on high,” President Obama said at Tuesday’s press conference. “That these are community challenges that call for community solutions.”
That’s where the Peace Corps comes in.
Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet echoed the President’s sentiments in an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown.
“[Peace Corps volunteers] are working at the very last mile of development, living and working in communities,” Hessler-Radelet said. “We know these girls’ families. We know the local leaders. And so we can be in a powerful position to advocate and support girls’ education.”
According to an NPR report The Peace Corps already has nearly 7,000 volunteers in 60 countries and will train 650 more volunteers to focus on teen girls and their access to education.
Hessler-Radelet said the training volunteers receive will equip them to sit down with school administrators, religious leaders or local leaders, and families to talk about why educating girls yields a strong return on investment.
“And then they can talk to the girls themselves and find out the real barriers that they face in their lives,” she said.
Some of the barriers girls encounter in trying to obtain an education include physical proximity to a school, safety, not being able to afford tuition, books or uniforms and marrying young.
Girls account for about half of the 120 million children not in school, NPR reports. While the number of girls enrolled in schools worldwide have improved since the 1990s, it is primarily the poorest girls living in “hotspots” across Asia and Sub Saharan Africa that are in need of the most help today. The Brookings Institution reported in December, for example, that there are 46 girls for every 100 boys in Chad and Somalia.
Once in school, however, girls not only do better than male counterparts to some extent, with boys making up 75 percent of grade-repeaters in primary school according to the same December Brookings report, but her income, safety, health, and the health of her children improve as well.
President Obama said at Tuesday’s press conference that Let Girls Learn will bring more attention to work that the U.S. already does to advocate for girls’ education around the world.