Speeches & Transcripts

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim's Remarks at "Let Girls' Learn" Spring Meetings Event

April 13, 2016

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim Let Girls Learn: A Special Event with First Lady Michelle Obama Washington DC, United States

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. Let me begin by thanking our representatives from Ghana, India, and Rwanda for their partnership and their strong commitments to investing in adolescent girls.

We’re honored to have First Lady Michelle Obama here at the World Bank Group for the very first time.

She is a tremendous champion for the rights of girls and women. And I’m so grateful that she could join us to shine a spotlight on the critical need to keep adolescent girls in school, so they can achieve their full potential and strengthen their communities and countries.

Right now around the world, 62 million girls are not in school, and about half of these girls are adolescents.

Not only do we need to get more girls into school, but we also need to ensure that they can stay in school and receive a quality secondary education.

You don’t have to be an economist here at the World Bank to know that unleashing the full economic potential of half the population can drive the growth and prosperity of nations. In Latin America, we found that when women’s participation in the labor market increased 15 percent in just one decade, the rate of poverty decreased by 30 percent.

Investing in girls and women is not only the right thing to do for them as individuals.  It’s also the smart thing to do for economies.

Given the labor market opportunities, an increase of just 1 percent in the share of women who have completed secondary school has been shown to increase per capita income growth by three-tenths of a percent.  So imagine the potential growth that countries can unleash if we level the playing field - and if every adolescent girl can complete a full 12 years of education.

On this, I stand with Nobel Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai: Twelve years of quality education should be the norm to which we aspire for every child in every country.

The good news is that we have seen major progress. Over the last two decades, the world has narrowed the divide between boys and girls, especially in primary education and health.

Yet critical gaps remain. 

Women lag behind men in most measures of economic opportunity, and in being able to make choices about their own lives.  Women who do work earn 10 to 30 percent less on average than their male counterparts—in part because their opportunities are limited to lower-paying, less secure jobs.

Discriminatory laws and customs too often force adolescent girls to marry, shut women out of certain jobs, limit their access to credit and banking services, and leave them unprotected against gender-based violence, both in their own homes and elsewhere.

But girls and women have a special role to play as drivers of growth and progress and powerful agents of change.  Keeping girls in school helps delay marriage and childbearing. Educated women have fewer, healthier, and better educated children. They are more likely to get better jobs and earn more. Entire economies become more competitive when we lift the constraints holding back girls and women.

One of the major constraints is access to education. We have learned that to get more adolescent girls into school, we need to look at a host of factors, including location of schools, cultural barriers, scholarships, the availability of conditional cash transfers, and hiring more female teachers.

In Nigeria, for example, the World Bank Group has worked with the government to expand access to secondary school for low-income girls in rural areas by constructing separate latrines and using conditional cash transfers to encourage parents to keep their girls in school. As a result, secondary school completion rates in one Nigerian state jumped nearly five-fold in just four years.

We also know, from our Adolescent Girls Initiative, that high-quality skills training and mentoring is essential in helping girls make the transition from school to productive employment.  In Liberia, this program helped 2,500 young women get training that led to a nearly 50 percent increase in their job placement and an 80 percent increase in their earnings.  

We will continue to expand our support for these and similar efforts targeting adolescent girls, as part of our new World Bank Group global strategy for gender equality

Today, I am pleased to announce that the World Bank Group plans to invest at least $2.5 billion dollars over the next five years in education programs that will benefit adolescent girls in developing countries, so they can stay in school and learn.  We expect that about three-quarters of this investment will come from IDA, our fund for the poorest countries, and will go largely to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which have the largest number of out-of-school adolescent girls.

We are counting on strong support from our country and donor partners to help us make this happen. Getting all adolescent girls into school by 2030 will require new resources and stronger partnerships in both the public and private sectors. 

The First Lady’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative is an important part of this collective effort. She launched this initiative just a year ago with President Obama to marshal the resources and political will to address the range of issues preventing adolescent girls from going to school.

Already, Let Girls Learn has been effective at catalyzing additional support and calling attention to the issue of adolescent girls’ education.

This should come as no surprise.  From her work on the South Side of Chicago to the White House, the First Lady has inspired millions of people with her passion, energy, and conviction to improve the world around her.  She has helped others discover their own power to be agents of change in their communities and beyond.

Thank you, Mrs. Obama, for speaking up for girls around the world, and using your public platform to spark action. And many thanks for coming to the World Bank Group for this event on providing quality education for all adolescent girls.

Please join me in welcoming First Lady Michelle Obama.