Update: The White House said it has not eliminated "Let Girls Learn," the education initiative championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama. On Monday, CNN published an internal memo which directed employees to stop using the "Let Girls Learn" branding and said the program was ending, effective immediately. Heather Nauert, a State Department spokesperson, denied this was the case.
"There have been no changes to the program," she told CNN. "The Administration supports policies and programs to empower adolescent girls, including efforts to educate them through the completion of secondary school. We are committed to empowering women and girls around the world and are continuing to examine the best ways to do so."
On Monday, CNN
This story was originally published on May 1, 2017.
The Trump administration is saying goodbye to one of Michelle Obama's core initiatives during her time at the White House.
"Let Girls Learn," the education program started by the former first lady and President Obama in 2015, championed educational opportunities for teenage girls in developing countries. According to an internal document first obtained by CNN, "Let Girls Learn" will cease operations effective immediately. While the Trump administration will continue some of the program's aspects, the initiative itself and the "Let Girls Learn" branding will stop being used by employees.
The news came in an email sent to Peace Corps employees by the agency's acting director Sheila Crowley and obtained by CNN.
"Moving forward, we will not continue to use the 'Let Girls Learn' brand or maintain a stand-alone program," Crowley wrote in the email.
She added, "'Let Girls Learn' provided a platform to showcase Peace Corps' strength in community development, shining a bright light on the work of our Volunteers all over the world. We are so proud of what 'Let Girls Learn' accomplished and we have all of you to thank for this success."
The "Let Girls Learn" initiative was spearheaded by the Peace Corps and the United States Agency for International Development. The purpose of the program was helping teenage girls in developing countries access educational opportunities. In 2016, the White House announced that government agencies and the private sector had pledged a total of $1 billion to fund new and ongoing programs in more than 50 countries.
For Tina Tchen, Obama's former chief of staff, it's disappointing that the program is being eliminated by the Trump administration.
"We felt it was important to have a branded campaign that drew attention to those issues, and we found that when we did it, we had extraordinary support," she told CNN. "I think it's unfortunate to not continue with the branded campaign. We think that this is an issue that has bipartisan support, it's really not a Republican or Democratic issue."
She added, "'Let Girls Learn' had several years of funding already baked. We were hopeful that given that, it could continue. But obviously elections have consequences, and nobody knows that better than we."
According to the UNESCO, more than 130 million girls worldwide are not in school today, and teenage girls are three times more likely than boys to be excluded from educational opportunities.
To fill the void left behind by "Let Girls Learn." which services these young women, Senator Jeanne Shaheen is planning to introduce the "Keeping Girls in School Act"
“I’m extremely disappointed to learn that the Trump administration is discontinuing the landmark Let Girls Learn initiative, which brought much-needed attention to the unique obstacles that adolescent girls face in getting an education around the world,” she said in a statement provided to Refinery29. “Far too often, adolescent girls are kept from school because of societal norms and family obligations. Parents who can only afford to send one child to school send their sons, girls are married off at an extremely young age and expected to stay home to do menial tasks, and girls who do attend school often face violence and threats along the way.”
She added, “Education is the key to unlocking one’s potential, yet today, approximately 130 million girls around the world are not in school, depriving them of the opportunity to participate in the workplace, contribute to their families and the economy, and break the cycle of poverty. We must stand with adolescent girls everywhere who are deprived of an education and denied the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
It's unclear what propelled the Trump administration to eliminate the program. First daughter Ivanka Trump, who acts as a senior adviser to her father, has said that girls' and women's issues will be one of the central matters she will focus on while in the White House. However, she has yet to reveal any specific proposals centered on girls' education around the world.
There is one silver lining, though. Obama has said that her commitment to boosting education initiatives for girls throughout the globe is not over.
"One issue that I am excited about continuing to work on is … to help young girls get an education around the world," she said during a speech at America Institute of Architecture convention last week.
It's good to know we can count on the former first lady to help improve the lives of young women worldwide.
This post has been updated with a statement from Senator Jeanne Shaheen.