What do Alicia Keys, Anne Hathaway, Kelly Osbourne, Susan Sarandon, Rita Wilson, and Jennifer Garner all have in common? They’ve come together to star in a new video initiative sponsored by the U.S. government to raise awareness of the many children who don’t have access to education. Led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Let Girls Learn aims to change the fact that 62 million girls around the world are not in school.
The idea for the initiative came following the horrific kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls who have yet to be returned to their families. USAID announced that it has put aside $201 million for new education programs set to provide learning opportunities for girls in Nigeria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Jordan, and Guatemala.
In the video, the stars speak out in support of girls having the right to an education. “A threat to girls’ education anywhere is a threat to progress everywhere,” Modern Family star Julie Bowen states. Susan Sarandon says, “One more year in education increases a woman’s income by up to 25 percent.” Glee star Darren Criss says, “A girl with a basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.” Sobering statistics indeed. Anne Hathaway simply mentions, “It’s time to unlock their potential; it’s time to let them learn.”
Mom of one Alicia Keys says, “I really wanted to participate in this because empowering women changes the course of our world.”
Now you may well roll your eyes at a bunch of privileged celebrities championing yet another cause, but they are generating publicity for a cause that all women should champion. This is not a debate about whether or not your daughter should go to college or which university is better — this is about the basic right to education. In certain states in Africa, there are 50 children to a class, many whom have walked over two hours to get to school without even having had any breakfast. In northwest Nigeria’s Sokoto state, 80 percent of Grade 3 children couldn’t read a word in 2012. Imagine your 7-year-old unable to read a word — or worse — your 15-year-old.
According to Save the Children, over 40 million children live in countries affected by armed conflict. Millions more are living in situations where natural disasters have forced them from their homes. Education systems in these countries are not able to provide their young with the skills they need to escape poverty, unemployment, and the economic despair that often contributes to violent conflict. USAID’s programs reach conflict-affected environments to improve access to education and provide safe access to schools, especially for vulnerable girls.
Unlike the Jenner sisters or other western celebrities who simply want to be famous for being famous and place no interest or value in education, there are millions of young poverty-stricken girls around the world who risk death, kidnapping, starvation, and injury just to go to school. Just to read a book. How in this day and age (I’m sounding like my own mother here) can this be happening?
I can honestly say that when I pack my son and daughter off to school tomorrow with their cold thermoses and spelling tests, their reading books and snack-time apples, I will have a new sense of gratefulness. In the UK, my children are able to get a great state-run education, filled with sports and quizzes and teamwork and art and all sorts of joy. Every child should have the same.
So if you want to join in with Garner, Hathaway, et al, then check out the video and #letgirlslearn. Do you think every girl deserves an education rather than working to support her family or acting as a carer/nanny to her parents/siblings? Me, too.