We know that many women supported, and continue to support, President Trump and his administration. But the first 100 days of his presidency have contained their share of controversy, including where women’s issues are concerned — both at home and overseas. Just yesterday the president announced that he would roll back the Let Girls Learn initiative, a program created by former first lady Michelle Obama in partnership with the Peace Corps to help provide education to young girls in developing countries. Michelle Obama launched the program in 2015 with President Obama, and since then, Let Girls Learn has committed millions of dollars to programs that facilitate education in countries from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Laos.
But that all changed on Monday. CNN reported yesterday that Peace Corps’ acting director Sheila Crowley sent an email to employees informing them that Let Girls Learn would be discontinued, adding that she was proud of all the program had accomplished. CNN also got its hands on an internal White House memo stating that the program was ending, but the White House later disputed that the program was ending, contradicting both the memo and messaging to Peace Corps employees.
For now, major news outlets are reporting that the program as a standalone initiative is gone, but elements of the program may stick around. We reached out to the Peace Corps for comment, but didn’t hear back by the time this story went live.
If the program is truly gone, as reporting indicates based on internal government messages, it means hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding for vulnerable girls abroad will be gone. On the International Day of the Girl last year, president Obama announced his budget request for around $100 million in new funding for Let Girls Learn programming. Without access to holistic education, young girls in developing nations are more likely to remain in poverty, have a baby during their teenage years, and contract HIV — all issues Let Girls Learn sought to mitigate.
Not only are young girls abroad losing out on important educational opportunities provided by the Obamas’ program, but the Trump administration has affected the well-being of older girls and women around the world too.
In January, Trump placed a global gag order on abortion, expanding on an already existing conservative law that prevents US monetary aid from funding abortions abroad. Human Rights Watch reported in March that Trump’s global gag rule on abortion will stop organizations from receiving US foreign aid if they use even their own funds for providing abortions, talk to patients about abortion options, or advocate for abortion rights. If any foreign organization so much as talks to clients about abortion, Trump’s gag order means they can’t receive any funding from the US government.
Many organizations that could be negatively impacted by the gag order offer comprehensive reproductive and maternal care, as well as care for tuberculosis, malaria, etc. Practically speaking, this means that foreign organizations who receive aid from the US will have to choose between cutting their programming that in any way involves abortion, or lose funding from the US for all of their services. One of the groups HRW reported could suffer is PEPFAR, an AIDS relief organization that, incidentally, was partnered with Let Girls Learn.
When this order has been in place in the past, HRW reports that organizations who opted not to comply lost funding and as a result lost staff and had to close clinics. Others chose to stop offering any abortion-related services, and said they saw women die from having unsafe abortions when they were unable to receive the proper medical advice and care.
All of this comes full circle when we remember that young girls in developing nations who have been receiving educational opportunities are less likely to get pregnant if they have more education. By eliminating both Let Girls Learn and placing a global gag order on organizations who work in the same or similar regions, the Trump administration is putting girls in a position where they’re more likely to get pregnant, but possibly less likely to have access to comprehensive reproductive care.
Needless to say, the Trump administration’s actions toward women and girls around the world are an outrage, and pose very real and serious threats. If Trump respects women as much as he claims to, he needs to stop cutting off vital resources to women around the globe.
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(Photos via Gerardo Mora, Carlos Alvarez + Mark Wilson/Getty)