Letting girls learn: Empowering communities to overcome barriers to girls’ education


The launch of a new effort on the Let Girls Learn initiative at the White House today will put grassroots solutions front-and-center in the struggle to overcome the challenges to girls’ education around the world.

Recently, I was talking with a colleague who was recounting how difficult it was, as a small non-profit organization, to get funding for her work. This is not an unusual story: most small non-profits here in the U.S. and abroad face an on-going and usually uphill battle to keep their work going. But it is a particularly poignant situation for girls’ education leaders, like my colleague, who are living and working in communities that are hostile or at best skeptical of their work. The culture of philanthropy that is so strong in the United States is relatively nascent in other parts of the world and the faith-based networks that do a great deal to help the poor often do not prioritize girls’ education, at least not in many communities where girls’ rights are daily under threat.

I have heard stories from many girls’ education advocates around the world who are from the countries and communities where they are now so tirelessly working to improve the lives of girls. These advocates, almost always women, usually have a unique story to tell because they “got out,” meaning they somehow were able to choose a different path in their lives than most other girls they grew up with. Stories of refusing to be married before finishing school, secretly studying at night to continue learning after her husband is asleep, or openly encouraging other girls’ to go to school even in the face of community condemnation. Or worse. We all know the story of Malala and her father and the truth is there are thousands of Malalas around the world.

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