US President Donald Trump signed a law on Monday protecting girls’ access to education in vulnerable settings.
S.1580 was first introduced in 2017 by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and the bill received broad bipartisan support as it progressed through Congress. Its passage represents strong support for foreign aid focused on girls’ education and gender equality at a time when US foreign aid more broadly has faced heightened scrutiny and budget cuts.
The new law authorizes the Department of State and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to “provide safe, primary, and secondary education for displaced children,” “build the capacity of institutions” supporting refugees and displaced persons, prevent educational discrimination, and promote opportunities for girls. The law will also create protocols for comprehensively studying the effects of education on girls’ life outcomes.
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Throughout the world, more than 32.5 million children are displaced, and more than 75 million children have had their educations disrupted because of natural disaster or conflict. Oftentimes, these children find themselves in environments that lack infrastructure and resources for continued and quality education. As a result, the majority of children who become displaced experience debilitating gaps in their education, and often fall irrevocably behind.
Refugee girls, meanwhile, are half as likely to be in school as refugee boys, and girls who are deprived of an education in emergency settings are more likely to be forced into child marriage, experience sexual assault, and fall into lifelong poverty, among other consequences.
If all girls in emergencies completed primary school, child marriage rates would fall by 14%, and secondary school completion would cause a 64% decline.
The US already supports various education initiatives in emergency settings.
Between 2011 and 2015, USAID has helped 11.8 children in emergency settings receive an education in stable conditions. The organization created 1,000 provisional schools after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, provided $100 million to Jordan to support the Let Girls Learn program, and established 400 learning centers in areas of insurgency in Nigeria.
“Children in crisis and conflict is what I worry about more than anything else in the world,” Mark Green, the USAID head, said in an interview. “This is what gets me up in the middle of the night, children being born in displaced settings and, therefore, having no hope for the future, so we have to find unconventional ways.”
With this new legislation, the US will be able to expand its role in providing education to millions of girls around the world.