WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Girls Leadership, Engagement, and Advocacy in Development (LEAD) Act of 2019, legislation to promote girls’ leadership and participation in civic and political processes through U.S. foreign assistance.
“I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation, which seeks to strengthen girls’ participation in democracy, human rights, and governance,” said Senator Cardin. “The Girls LEAD Act shines a spotlight on the necessity of empowering adolescent girls around the world and ensures that U.S. foreign assistance programs are working to achieve this goal. Providing girls access to the tools they need for success supports stability and growth in their communities and across the globe.”
“Despite comprising more than 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision-making,” said Senator Collins. “The Girls LEAD Act will complement Congress’ recent efforts to combat this issue by specifically addressing the civic involvement and leadership of adolescent girls, an area where there is currently a gap in U.S. foreign assistance programing.”
The Girls LEAD Act has been endorsed by several organizations, including Save the Children, Vital Voices, and The Hunger Project.
“We know that girls understand best what they need, to not only survive, but to thrive,” said Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles, “We must listen to and empower girls so they can be a force of change in their own communities. The Girls LEAD Act is an important step in recognizing girls as agents of change, and ensuring their meaningful engagement in U.S. development programming.”
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 132 million adolescent girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are not enrolled in school. It is vitally important that girls and young women in childhood are empowered and that we invest in their leadership potential early so that they can develop pathways to positions of political leadership and civic engagement.
Current U.S. assistance for girls’ empowerment and leadership is largely based around health and education efforts; however, assistance does not directly address girls’ civic engagement and participation. Additionally, current democracy and governance programs often lack a gender or age-lens.
The Girls LEAD Act would:
- Establish U.S. policy to promote the support and empowerment of adolescent girls and direct the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to create a single strategy on strengthening the participation of adolescent girls in democracy, human rights, and governance.
- Direct the Department of State and USAID to implement programming designed to strengthen the civic and political participation of girls; and,
- Require annual reporting to ensure progress on the new policy and strategy.
The Girls LEAD Act complements the efforts of the Women, Peace, and Security Act, which was signed into law in October 2017, and the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment (WEEE) Act, which was signed into law in January 2019. Senator Cardin co-authored the WEEE Act and Senator Collins was a cosponsor.
Click HERE to read the text of the bill.