Unity and nonpartisan efforts are important. However, there are real people and communities at risk that can be assisted by the passing of these bills.
The Keeping Girls in School Act (S.1071) and the Global Child Thrive Act (S. 2715) have yet to be passed by the United States Senate. The first of these bills is designed to help the approximately 130 million girls around the world who are not enrolled in school, while the latter would allow the Department of State and USAID to strategize ways to improve educational equality while also allocating existing funds towards this cause.
Specifically, the KGSA would make the US a global leader in efforts to expand education, especially in regard to gender equality. The other bill focuses on assisting the approximately 250 million children who struggle to properly develop due to poverty. Among other tactics, the Global Child Thrive Act would allow the US to work with countries in the global south on coordinating efforts for children’s welfare. The GCTA will only cost around $500,000 over the next five years, while the KGSA will change the distribution of funds but not require any additional spending by the US government.
With all of these pluses, Americans have a right to wonder why the bills have not made it through Congress.
I came to know about these bills through work I did with young children in Malawi, where I worked with the Ministry of Hope to present a workshop on gender equality in education. In the US, I co-produced a documentary, STEMinism: Exploring the Gender Gap in S.T.E.M. fields. Both challenges revealed to me the dangerous yet nuanced discrimination that prevents girls from going to school and children from developing properly. Also, interning with the Borgen Project, which fights global poverty, I focused on gender equality in the educational sphere and the well-being of the world’s youth.
In advocating for the aforementioned bills, I discovered that there are specific guidelines for co-sponsorship, and that’s where the problem arises. According to staffers for Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, in an effort to keep the bills bipartisan, a Democrat and a Republican must sign on to them together. But while both of this state’s US senators support the causes behind the KGSA and the GCTA, and their staffers note their hope for the success of these bills, neither is co-sponsoring because of the bipartisan requirement. In an age of seriously divisive politics, this may seem like a valiant effort to promote bipartisanship, but it has also been detrimental to the bill’s movement through Congress.
A similar bill, the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act, became law in last year’s Congress. Only 16 Democrats and two Republicans gave their support, yet it was able to pass. When the Keeping Girls in School Act was in the House of Representatives, it was able to gather 116 sponsors, because it did not have to adhere to party lines. The Global Child Thrive Act, meanwhile, had 58 cosponsors, with only nine being Republicans. Still, the bills made it through the House. At the time of this writing, in the “bipartisan” Senate, the GCTA has 20 co-sponsors, while the KGSA has only eight. Both are essentially stuck due to this forced bipartisanship.
Of course, unity and nonpartisan efforts are important. However, there are real people and communities at risk that can be assisted by the passing of these bills. The recent politicization of social issues has been detrimental for global progress. Education, equality, and safety should be bipartisan. The slow progress of these bills, despite their low cost, proves this claim. If Democrats have the numbers to make a tangible impact on vulnerable communities, they should do it and not have to worry who will join them in doing so. Activists are currently at an impasse because upon requesting co-sponsorship from their senators, they will be met with shrugs and statements such as, “There’s nothing we can do until a Republican agrees to sign on as well.”
Hopefully, by putting pressure on politicians who may agree with the bill, the public can at least promote increased efforts to find more supporters. However, until Congress stops stalling in the name of “unity,” there is little that can be done without a sudden onset of support by Republicans. In fact, both Senate offices in Mass confirmed that there’s a “waiting list” of sorts for Dems to sign on to these bills.
Perhaps Congress should attend to helping children all around the world, rather than making a statement on bipartisanship.