WASHINGTON — On International Women’s Day, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced that they will introduce the Girls Leadership, Engagement, and Advocacy in Development (LEAD) Act, legislation to promote girls’ leadership and participation in civic and political processes through U.S. foreign assistance. Representatives David Trone (D-Md.-06) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.-05) introduced the companion legislation in the House.
“By giving girls more opportunity to impact the decisions that affect their daily lives, communities can become more responsive and inclusive to all their citizens’ needs. Empowering girls will lead to a generation of empowered women who have the tools to make their families and their countries better,” said Senator Cardin. “On this International Women’s Day, I am proud to announce the Girls LEAD Act with Senator Collins.”
“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 would complement Congress’ 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.”
“When women are in leadership positions around the world, we are better for it. Over this past year, we have seen the immense contributions of women leaders who have taken swift, decisive action in the face of COVID-19 to protect communities in the face of an unprecedented crisis,” said Congressman Trone. “This bipartisan bill prioritizes investment in girls’ interaction with civic systems at an early age, creating a strong pipeline for girls to become leaders and decision-makers for years to come. I want to thank Representative McMorris Rodgers and Senators Cardin and Collins for partnering in this bipartisan, bicameral effort on International Women’s Day.”
“When women engage, democracies are stronger, foreign aid is more effective, and the world is safer. A truly representative government relies on the voices of all its citizens, no matter their background or walk of life,” said Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers. “The bipartisan Girls LEAD Act highlights the importance of engaging girls in civics and public service. This will help build a stronger pipeline for young women to run for political office and encourage them to seek leadership positions in the private sector. With more women empowered, it will support a new generation of transformational leaders in democracies around the world.”
The Girls LEAD Act has been endorsed by several organizations, including Save the Children and ChildFund.
“We know that adolescent girls understand best what they need to live up to their full potential,” said Janti Soeripto, Save the Children President and CEO. “It’s imperative we listen to and empower girls so they can be a force for change within their own communities. The Girls LEAD Act is a critical step in recognizing girls as powerful drivers of progress, and ensuring their meaningful participation in democracy, human rights and civic engagement.”
“Most of U.S. foreign assistance programming for girls focuses on ensuring their access to health, education and entrepreneurship opportunities but fails to educate them about their roles as citizens with unique strengths and wisdom to shape the systems and policies that affect them,” said Anne Lynam Goddard, President and CEO of ChildFund. “Until programs and funding aiming to bolster democracies and civic participation worldwide include girls, they will continue to fall short.”
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. School closures related to the COVID–19 pandemic have pushed nearly 743,000,000 more girls around the world out of 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.