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USAID Girls' Education Conference

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First Lady

Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham ClintonUnited States Agency for International Development Girls' Education Conference

Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, D.C.

May 7, 1998

Thank you so much. It is such a great pleasure for me to be here at this conference with all of youwho are committed to the education and well being of girls around theworld. I am also pleased to have thefirst occasion to visit this new, very large building and see thisauditorium in action. This is now the secondlargest building, second only to the Pentagon. So I think it isappropriate that while the Pentagon houses thosewho strive to keep us safe and secure and keep peace around the world, this building would host a conferenceabout educating girls and building a future that we hope will be peacefulfor all children. I hope that we are ableto do that through the work that you are doing at this conference and thatthe results of this conference andwhat you carry away from it will enable you to be strong voices throughoutthe world on behalf of young women and girls.

The best description that I have ever read about why this conferenceis so important did not come from athink tank or a government report or a research study but instead from acollege student, a young women fromNew Delhi who gave me a poem she had written about why it was so importantthat she be the first young womanin her family ever to go on to college and have that opportunity. Here iswhat she wrote:

"Too many women in too many countries speak the same language -- of silence...There must be freedom -- if we are to speak. And yes, there must be power -- if we are to be heard."

We are here today to make sure that all children have the freedom andthe power to make their voicesring as loudly as the 75 members of the World Children's Choir we heard afew minutes ago. We are here becausethere are already powerful voices present in this room that are makingthemselves heard on behalf of education forall children. I want to thank everyone who made this extraordinary eventpossible, particularly Brian Atwood,Margaret Lycette, Susie Clay and the entire United States Agency forInternational Development staff. All over theworld, I have seen the fruits of the Girls and Women's EducationInitiative, that was pioneered by USAID, and I have been gratified to see the work that is being done to put quality education within the grasp of every child.

I also want to thank the co-sponsors of this conference: the UnitedNations Children's Fund, theInter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the Delegation of theEuropean Commission, and the Lewis T. Preston Education Fund for Girls. Thank you all.

I, too, extend a warm welcome to the First Lady of Ghana and the First Lady of Peru. I also wish towelcome all Ministers and Vice Ministers, Cabinet Officials,Parliamentarians, Ambassadors, leaders ofnon-governmental organizations, the media, businesses, religiousorganizations, and other distinguishedguests from the 42 countries represented here.

As I look out at this impressive gathering, I believe that we aretruly at the beginning of a greatinternational effort to give all children access to quality primary andsecondary education. As I have beenprivileged to travel around the world, I have met many, many citizens whoare struggling to find their voicesin a time of increasing democracy, information, and globalization. I'vemet with many families who work hardeveryday just to put a roof over their children's heads and food on theirtables for meals. I have visited communities,where people have banded together to create healthier, more prosperousopportunities for all who live there.Often when I ask a very simple question, I get the same answer. I ask,"How is it that you are able to accomplishso much?" The answer usually in one way or another comes back toeducation. Education is recognizedthroughout the world, even by those who themselves have not enjoyed aneducation, as a powerful tool for achild, or a family, or a whole society to make progress. Education is nolonger viewed as a luxury for some,but as a necessity for all. The World Bank has said repeatedly thateducation provides the highest rate ofreturn of any investment in developing nations. And that is especiallytrue of girls' educations.

Because we know that when we educate a girl, we improve the health ofwomen and families. Weknow that a woman who has had even a single year of education has childrenthat have a better chance ofliving. We know that as the years of schooling increase, the chances ofthe child living, and living well, increaseas well.

When we educate a girl, we decrease poverty by helping women supportthemselves and their families. Asingle year of education usually correlates with an increased income of 10to 20 percent for women later in life. InSenegal, I visited a small village where education for girls, and women'sadult literacy programs, have been thefirst steps in helping the village understand how it could work together to create more prosperity, how it could takefive hectares of barren land and turn it into an oasis of green, growingproducts that could not only support the villagebut be sold in the marketplace as well.

When we educate a girl today, we also help to create a leader fortomorrow, a leader within thefamily and the community, perhaps a teacher, an engineer, a lawyer, adoctor, a nurse, a mother of a healthy andeducated child, a woman who is working hard to make her life and the livesof her family as good as they can be.

That's why at international conferences and summits in Paris, Cairo,Copenhagen, and Beijing, we have joined together to call for universal primary education. We called forending the disparities between boys and girlsthat, for too long, have plagued primary and secondary schools making itvery difficult for girls to attend. I want to thank all of you who have worked to make the words that appeared on thepages of the declarations from these international conferences living realities.

In developing countries, the primary school enrollment for girls hasincreased by 50 percent since 1960. Inthe poorest countries, it has more than doubled during this period. Butthat is not enough, we have to do more. Wehave to see that we support governments and NGOs in reaching out to affordaccess to education to as many girls as possible. I have seen such activities bearing fruit all over theworld.

In Bangladesh, I visited a school run by the Bangladesh RuralAdvancement Committee, a non-governmentalorganization that believes that education -- especially girls' education -- is a pre-condition for economic development. Because of that belief, some of the BRAC schools have been burned byextremist groups. But the schoolskeep being rebuilt and families keep sending their children to attend.

I also saw where the Bangladesh government is attempting to provideincentives for families to keep their daughters in school. Families get food each week if they send theirchildren, particularly their girls, to school.To help give girls the chance to go to secondary school, the governmentactually deposits a small amount ofmoney in a family banking account as long as the daughters attend school.

I have seen the results of President Museveni's promise of UniversalPrimary Education in Uganda. I havebeen in classrooms that are absolutely filled with children -- 70, 75, 80third graders -- a very big challenge to anyteacher. But instead of being frustrated the teachers I have met have been proud. Proud because children arecoming to school and everyone is working very hard to create the materialsand train additional teachers to meet this challenge. Overwhelming pride is felt because for the first time,more girls than boys are attending school.

There have also been results in Guatemala where the government and the Foundation for SugarProducers teamed up to offer small scholarships to girls in rural schoolsbecause they knew that the dropout rate between the first and second grades for girls in those schoolswith scholarships was only one percentcompared to 30 percent nationwide. In another Guatemalan program,afternoon school sessions have been introduced to accommodate girls who must carry out domestic andagricultural work in the mornings.

In Malawi, the villagers were not only asked why girls are notattending school, they were asked to come upwith solutions. They performed plays and skits. They waived school fees. They took responsibility for enrollinggirls in school. As a result, enrollment increased from 50 to 83 percent.

In the Community Schools Program in Egypt, the number of girlsenrolled in school increased from 2,000 to35,000 because schools were located closer to homes, making them safer andmore accessible. Curricula weredesigned so that they were culturally appropriate and approved by villageleaders. Girls were trained to be surethat they were understanding how important this gift of education was andparents were asked to become activelyinvolved as well.

As we look across the globe, therefore, we see success storieseverywhere. Yet, right now, there arestill 100 million children worldwide who are out of school, and two-thirdsof them are girls. 900 million peoplecannot read or write, and sixty percent of them are women. Two-thirds ofthe children who complete less thanfour years of primary education are girls and countless others do not evenhave access to a primary school, let alone a secondary school.

Without the ability to read and write or do math, girls will beincreasingly left out of the information age.Unable to compete, to increase their own incomes, or contribute to theirfamilies, they will have their own dreamsand aspirations short changed.

So as you attend this conference, starting yesterday going throughtoday, I hope you will continue tolook at solutions and that you will share information about the bestpractices from each of your countries that havemade a difference in making sure that girls are able to attend school.

I remember so well being in a small village about 40 minutes outsideLahore, Pakistan where I visited aschool that had been built to give the girls in that area primaryeducation. I sat out in the courtyard in front of theschool and talked with mothers of children who attended. One mother toldme about her 10 children -- 5 girls and5 boys. Her worry was that she had sent all of her children to school, toprimary school. And when her boysgraduated from primary school they had gone on. They had gone to thenearest secondary school continuingtheir education. But when her daughters finished the village school, there were no secondary schools nearbyfor girls and she was not willing to send her daughters off alone to attend school far away. So, she asked me,and she asked all of the officials who were with me, if they could pleasehave a secondary school built forgirls near their village.

This one mother spoke, I believe, for countless millions of others --women who know that theirdaughters will not live the same lives they have lived, that change is toopervasive, that they have toprovide better opportunities so that their daughters will be prepared forwhatever the future holds. AsBrian mentioned in his remarks, a recently completed evaluation makes clear that the "second generation"of girls' education initiatives must continue to expand access to school,particularly secondary school, but wealso must face up to the need to improve the quality of girls' education.

Because we've done a good job in reaching parents and telling themthey should send their girlsto school, we now have many, many girls and many, many boys crowding intothe schools that are alreadyavailable. These schools then face the tremendous challenge of trying totrain new teachers, provide basicsupplies, and maintain facilities. It is very hard, even for the proudestteacher, to get around to look at the workof 75 or 80 eight year olds. Because we have so many crowded classrooms,many children get lost in that crowdand many do not even remain to finish primary education. We have to make a commitment not only toproviding access to education but to providing access to quality educationas well.

We cannot think of girls schooling as something we put in a little box over in a corner It must be part of theoverall educational efforts of all of our countries. We have come torecognize that we must educate both boys and girls.We have to recognize that any child who goes without education in today'sworld may become a burden on the largersociety. Therefore, it is in our interest to be sure that they all haveaccess to quality schooling.

We also have to look at ways of reaching families so that they knowhow important it is to prepare theirchildren for school and make sure that when those children walk through aschoolhouse door they are ready tolearn. We now know, from scientific research, that the brain develops atan extraordinary pace in the first three years of life. Many of the traditions that we have all followed in caring forbabies, holding them, rocking them, singing to them,caressing them, we have done because it was passed on to us generation togeneration as to how we should care fora small infant. We now know that those habits, those forms of attention,are not just a wonderful way to develop a bondbetween a parent and a child but they actually create brain cells. Themore a child is appropriately stimulated,alked to, read to, sung to, that child's brain is then creating more andmore connections that will enable that child,when he or she is ready for formal academic learning, to be able to readbetter, to be ableto do mathematics better.

We have to reach parents all over the world with this new scientificinformation to encourage them to payattention to their babies, encourage them to space the births of theirbabies so they have the time and the energy toinvest in each child. By doing so, we will better prepare children for the schooling to come.

There are many organizations throughout every society that have a role to play. Certainly the family bears the primary responsibility and the extended family must support the family in educating girls. But so too should religiousorganizations also understand how important it is to make sure every younggirl is able to live up to her God-given promise as well. The media has a role to play in disseminatinginformation such as the importance of the scientificresearch about paying attention to young babies. The media also can giveus good examples of girls and boysgoing to school, learning, being able to go out into the world bettereducated.

Businesses can do things such as provide scholarships, help supportschools, be willing to take the initiative to stand behind the idea of educating all citizens. Not onlybecause it is the right thing to do but because it is a way for businesses in all of our countries to have bettertrained and educated workers andconsumers. Certainly government leaders have to do everything within their power to make it possible forus to have as many good quality schools and teachers everywhere throughoutevery country.

With technology we can also leap frog over some of the obstacles thatwould otherwise prevent schoolingfrom being available. In South Africa, I visited a school in Soweto wherethere were not enough teachers, wherethere were many children now coming back into the school with the end ofapartheid and where they were attempting to teach English to as many children as possible. They were using taperecordings and the teacher could monitorindividual students. In other schools there is even an effort to try toget one television with transmissions that canbring in distant learning so that we can expand the opportunities available even though the teachers are not present. The computer, of course, is very expensive and in some of the schoolsI have visited there is not even electricity yet. However, if a computer can be made available you have opened the world up to students who live very far fromany large city or large university and it is possible to provide access tothe information age to those students.We have to be more creative and innovative in thinking about how toovercome the obstacles to provide forgirls education.

I look forward to hearing the results of your deliberations duringthis conference. I am hoping that the ideasthat you will discuss you can disseminate widely throughout the world.Certainly USAID and the United Statesgovernment want to stand with you in helping to bring to reality our shared dream that we will see opportunitiesfor every girl and every boy, everywhere in the world to receive a qualityeducation that will enable them to takeresponsibility for their futures.

Thank you very much.

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May 1998

USAID Girls' Education Conference

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