U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Elizabeth Pelletreau Op-Ed on UN International Day of the Girl Child

The United States is proud to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child with the people of Lesotho and our partners across the globe.  The United Nations established the day in 2011 to recognize girls’ rights and galvanize global commitments to end gender stereotypes, discrimination, violence, and economic disparities that disproportionately affect girls.  This day reminds us and inspires us to consider how we can work together to ensure that all young people – both girls and boys – have equal opportunities to contribute to their societies, and build brighter futures for themselves, their families, and Lesotho.

Empowering girls benefits entire families, communities, and nations.  Data shows that when girls are educated, countries are more prosperous.  Providing girls with an extra year of schooling increases their wage-earning potential by 10 to 20 percent, and the returns to secondary education are even higher.  Girls who are in school are more likely to delay marriage and childbirth, have lower rates of HIV/AIDS and other STDs, and enjoy greater equality at home and in society, and their future children are more likely to survive and be educated themselves.  Compared to many countries in Africa, girls’ access to education in Lesotho is one of the highest.  Recent figures show that over 90% of girls attend primary school – an achievement of which Lesotho must be very proud.  But, the number of Basotho girls attending secondary school drops to 37%, making it clear that even here, more can and should be done to support girls’ education.

Investing in girls’ health is also central to their development and ability to excel in society in Lesotho.  As the UN Secretary General recently stated with regards to the maternal mortality Millennium Development Goals, “to truly triumph over maternal mortality, we must focus our initiatives on the adolescent girl.  Adolescent girls need to be able to go to school and pursue education to the highest levels possible.  When an adolescent girl is safe from harm and able to choose when to bear children, she can be saved from HIV infection, hemorrhage, obstetric complications such as obstructed labor and fistula, and death.”

Promoting gender equality, and investing in women and girls, are central to promoting prosperity, peace, and security.  Lesotho is a world leader in gender equality, with Basotho women participating actively and fully in every professional field.  In 2013, the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report rated Lesotho – for the fourth consecutive year – as the country with the smallest gender gap in Africa.  All Basotho should take pride in that impressive success.

Unfortunately, recent studies show a troubling increase in gender-based violence (GBV) in Lesotho, particularly domestic and sexual violence against women and girls.  The 2009 Lesotho Demographic Health Survey indicates that 90% of acts of domestic violence are not reported to legal authorities.  This silent epidemic is a source of great suffering and limits Lesotho’s development and growth.  The U.S. Embassy is proud to work with Basotho partners to support programs to combat gender-based violence.  For example, we recently awarded a grant to local organization Women and Law in Southern Africa – Lesotho to run advocacy dialogues and training workshops to support the enactment of a Domestic Violence Act to help reduce and prevent sexual gender based violence against women in Lesotho.

The American people, through the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have played a leading role in helping Lesotho fight against HIV/AIDS.  Over the 30 years of the pandemic, families and communities in Lesotho have led a massive response to protect, care for, and support children affected by HIV/AIDS.  Since 2003, PEPFAR has greatly enhanced these efforts and enabled programs to support over 57,000 Basotho orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).  PEPFAR’s OVC programs support girls’ access to education and learning spaces, training opportunities, mentorship programs and support groups, and health and food services.

The U.S. Embassy in Maseru is proud to support in Lesotho the global priority of recognizing and enabling girls’ rights and potential.  Working in partnership with the Lesotho Government, the private sector, and civil society, we hope to help Lesotho ensure that Basotho girls have opportunities to make the most of their lives and contribute maximally to their communities.

Putting it simply — when girls thrive, nations thrive.  Today’s International Day of the Girl Child gives us a chance to celebrate Lesotho’s accomplishments and recommit ourselves to working together in partnership to help all the women and girls of this beautiful Mountain Kingdom, and across the world, achieve their greatest potentials.