On behalf of the American people, I am proud to celebrate the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child with Tanzanians.
The day was established to recognise girls’ rights and galvanise global commitments to end gender stereotypes, discrimination, violence and economic disparities that disproportionately affect girls.
This day gives us all - girl, boy, man, woman - a unique opportunity to consider how we can work together to ensure that all young people have equal opportunities to contribute to their societies, and to build brighter futures for themselves, their families, and their countries.
As I have said to every audience in every corner of Tanzania I have had the honor to visit during my almost three years of service as US Ambassador to Tanzania, one of the United States' top priorities is to promote the empowerment and advancement of Tanzanian women and girls.
The fact is that gender equality and investing in women and girls are central to our US foreign policy priorities of promoting prosperity, peace and security.
Evidence shows that countries will only reach their greatest potential economically, socially, and politically when women and girls participate equally in all aspects of society in education and health care; when they are protected from discrimination and other harmful activities such as early marriage and gender-based violence.
That is why Secretary Clinton and the Obama Administration have made advancing the status of women and girls a key diplomatic priority for the United States.
In too many communities, the United States included, girls do not have the same opportunities to reach their full potential: Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women.
Thirty-nine million girls worldwide are not in school. Too many girls and women still receive inadequate health care and nutrition. In certain regions, girls are fed last and denied medical care simply because they are girls.
An estimated 10 million girls are married every year before they reach the age of 18, and about 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year, which is linked to maternal mortality, curtailed education, and limited economic opportunity.
There are no cultural or social traditions that justify these troubling trends that undermine the development of nations. Investing in girls benefits entire families, communities, and nations. The data show that when girls are educated, countries are more prosperous.
Providing girls with an extra year of schooling beyond the average increases their wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school increases wages by 15 to 25 percent.
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.
Those who seek to promote development must bear in mind the fact that when girls thrive, nations thrive.
Some of the world's most respected economists (The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report) have found that the most competitive and prosperous countries are those where gender gap is closest to being closed in a range of areas - including access to education, health, economic participation, and political participation.
Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other agencies, the American people have worked to ensure that girls in the developing world have opportunities to make the most of their lives and contribute to their communities. Between 2009 and 2011, the United States helped 84 million girls to go to school around the world.
We are working to strengthen students’ reading skills, to train teachers to be more gender-sensitive in the classroom, to develop textbooks that demonstrate gender equality and to provide training that will equip them for 21st Century jobs.
From Malawi to Yemen to Tajikistan, our Safe Schools program is working with teachers, administrators, students and parents to make school environments free from gender-based violence and safer for girls.
We are working with local community organizations to persuade families not to force their daughters into child marriage. And we are supporting efforts worldwide to prevent and address gender based-violence.
Here in Tanzania, I am proud to report that part of our $750 million USD (1 trillion Tanzanian shillings) in annual assistance is targeted at providing Tanzanian women with enhanced access to economic opportunities through expansion of this nation's agricultural sector and to promote entrepreneurship.
Feed the Future, launched by Secretary Clinton during her visit to Tanzania in June 2011, is an example of that commitment.
We are also implementing in partnership with Tanzanians programs through USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to enhance health care services for women, including maternal care to reduce infant mortality, combat malaria, and HIV/Aids through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
However, more must be done, especially at local levels. I have always underscored that programs have more meaning when initiated by Tanzanians for Tanzanians.
This meets President Obama's vision for Africans to find solutions and lead efforts to resolve Africa's challenges. As such, I urge every Tanzanian, especially men, to actively work in their communities to promote the rights of women and girls.
These efforts and commitments by all citizens should ensure every Tanzanian girl has access to opportunities to meet her highest God-given potential.
This Day of the Girl gives us all an opportunity to pause to discuss these important issues - and some of the ways we can work together to overcome the barriers that might keep girls and boys from achieving their greatest potential.
As a proud father of three very successful women - two lawyers and a doctor - I want the same opportunities afforded to them for every Tanzanian girl.
They are the future and their hopes must be nurtured by all of us with the promise that they can dream big and achieve success through their personal efforts.
Let us dedicate ourselves to meet our promise to them. This is one of the highest and noblest calls of our times.
Alfonso E. Lenhardt is the Ambassador of the United States of America to the United Republic of Tanzania