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OP-ED: International Day of the Girl Child

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US Ambassador Brent Hardt with a group of Guyanese girls.

by US Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt.

Last year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to declare today’s date as the International Day of the Girl Child to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world.  This resolution also seeks to galvanize global commitments to end gender stereotypes, discrimination, violence, and economic disparities that disproportionately affect girls. 

While the world has seen important progress in expanding opportunity for women and girls, significant gaps remain in  their level of political participation and economic opportunity.  A growing body of evidence makes clear  that political and economic empowerment among women is critical to fostering international peace and security, growing vibrant market economies, and supporting open and accountable governance.  That is why the Obama Administration has ensured that promoting the rights of women is fully-integrated into the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

Secretary of State Clinton has long been a leading global advocate for female empowerment and has brought her  passion for ensuring that young women are able to make the most of their talents to our foreign engagement with countries throughout the world.  In support of Secretary Clinton’s priorities, the U.S. Embassy in Guyana is actively working to empower women and young girls in Guyana.  We believe that young people can make a difference in their communities and that young women can bring positive change to Guyana if given the opportunity and skills.

Our Embassy donated several books to Women Across Differences, a local organization in Guyana, highlighting the achievements and contributions of great women and telling stories about women and girls who have overcome challenges and difficult situations.  We have also supported events to promote awareness of and to combat domestic violence, especially violence against women and children.  Children who experience domestic violence are at a higher risk for failure in school, emotional disorders, and substance abuse, and are more likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence.  Overcoming the problem of domestic violence will prove to be difficult and a long-term challenge but each and every one of us can help stop the cycle.

Last January, the Embassy actively participated in the WITNESS Project – a campaign where Guyanese youths helped build awareness on domestic violence.  Launched by the U.S.-based Margaret Clemons Foundation, the WITNESS Project engaged talented Guyanese youth to take photographs that became the basis of a city-wide poster campaign that sought to spark conversations on domestic violence and send a clear message:  children are the most vulnerable and impressionable witnesses of domestic violence.

We believe that education is a significant investment for any country – especially higher education, vocational training, and exposure to other cultures and ways of life.  Few investments have as large a payoff as girls’ education.  Educated women are more likely to take care of their health, choose to have fewer children — and educate them well, which, in turn, makes it more likely their children will survive and thrive into adulthood.  Research by the World Bank and other organizations has shown that increasing girls’ schooling boosts women’s wages and leads to faster economic growth than educating only boys.  Moreover, when women earn more money, they are more likely to invest it in their children and households, enhancing family wealth and well-being.  Other benefits of women’s education captured in studies include lower levels of HIV infection, domestic violence and harmful practices toward women.  Our Embassy staff has visited schools around Guyana to provide educational briefings on a number of topics – the environment, U.S. culture, and domestic violence – to name a few.  We also try to provide information and support to students who might be interested in studying abroad in the United States to pursue a university degree. 

The U.S. Embassy supported Camp G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World) this year, a Peace Corps Volunteer-driven program which organized activities for girls in Guyana to focus on teamwork, building self-esteem, working on goal-setting and decision-making, and creating healthy relationships and lifestyles.  We believe it is important for young women to take steps to embrace their potential as future leaders and strong women.  It also important for adults – family members, teachers, coaches, mentors, community leaders – to support girls, encourage them, and hopefully motivate and inspire them.  In my visit to the camp, I was able to see first-hand how much the Peace Corps Volunteers’ engagement had inspired and encouraged the Guyanese girls.   

The Embassy has also afforded women and girls from Guyana the opportunity to travel to the United States for special exchange programs so that they can network with their counterparts to develop leadership and professional skills.  There is one program in particular which Guyana’s bright, young, female leaders can participate in an exchange to the United States, known as the Youth Ambassadors Program.  The U.S. Embassy sent seven outstanding girls from Guyana to the United States on a three-week exchange program for leadership training and skills-building.  Participants stayed with a host family and visited several cities in the United States; they were able to compare the U.S. high school experience with their own and see how youth organizations can contribute to their communities.  The Youth Ambassadors Program offers an excellent opportunity for girls’ development (and boys too), and we look forward to sending even more future leaders on this remarkable experience.  Our website georgetown.usembassy.gov has updates on the program and application information. 

Recognizing that no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs, we must continue to work together to break down barriers to the political and economic empowerment of women and girls.  Countries that succeed in advancing the status of women and girls most effectively will reap future benefits in development, prosperity, security and democracy.