The United States is proud to celebrate the International Day of the Girl with our partners in Uganda and around the world. October 11 is a day to recognize girls’ rights and build a global commitment to end gender stereotypes, discrimination, violence, and economic disparities that disproportionately affect girls.
I have lived in Uganda now for more than two years. During this time, I have had the pleasure of watching my own daughter grow up and study in Kampala. It was an amazing experience for her, but I know that such opportunities are not available to the majority of Ugandan girls. That realization drives me to work even harder with our Ugandan partners to address the needs and challenges of girls across this country. Uganda simply will not prosper unless its leaders and society can one day provide the same kind of opportunities that my daughter enjoyed.
Girls are particularly vulnerable in developing countries; 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday. In Uganda, 3 out of 10 girls aged 6-15 drop out of schools due to early marriages. One in four teenage girls gets pregnant. HIV infection rates are three times higher among girls aged 15-19 than boys from the same age group. These statistics are frightening and demand immediate attention.
The evidence is clear: when girls thrive, nations thrive. Communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons are more peaceful, more prosperous, more developed, and more likely to succeed. That is true in America, and in Uganda.
When girls are educated and empowered, entire families, communities, and countries benefit. For example, a child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ wages by 10-20%. An extra year of secondary school raises wages by 15-25%. When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP on average increases by 3%. In sub-Saharan African, if all women completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by 70%. Women access health services more often than men, both for themselves and on behalf of their children, so they are critical to maintaining healthy families.
The United States is proud to be working in partnerships with governments, the private sector, and civil society to ensure that girls have opportunities to make the most of their lives and contribute to their communities. President Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative is helping address the range of challenges preventing adolescent girls from attending and completing school. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will now invest nearly half a billion dollars in ten African countries, including Uganda, to support an AIDS-free future for adolescent girls and young women. Our Safe Schools program works with teachers, students, and parents to eliminate gender-based violence in schools, making them safer for girls.
In Uganda, the U.S. is working with government and civil society to launch the National Action Plan for Child Well-Being later this month. Our shared goal is to improve child well-being in ten key areas, including reductions in teen pregnancies and child marriages as well as reduction of gender based violence, and keeping girls in school through secondary. We must strengthen Uganda’s institutions and systems to support the growth and development of healthy, empowered girls.
I know from my own life that being a girl in this world – even in the United States – is hard enough. Let’s not make it harder for girls by limiting their choices and chances to grow, to thrive, and to survive.
So let girls learn. Let girls live. Let us invest in Uganda’s 9.5 million girls to harness the country’s full potential. Let us today, and every day, give girls equal opportunities to contribute to their societies and build brighter futures for themselves, their families, and Uganda.