White House says 'Let Girls Learn' initiative has not been changed despite internal documents

The programme has invested at least $1 billion in projects to empower girls around the world

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The Independent US

The White House says there have been no changes to the “Let Girls Learn” initiative.

"There have been no changes to the program," Kelly Love, a White House spokeswoman, told CNN, hours after the network reported on internal documents which stated that the stand-alone program would be shut down immediately.

Statements from the Peace Corps and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to CNN and The Independent, respectively, indicated that the program would stop operating at full capacity, effective Monday. But a second spokesperson at USAID emailed The Independent hours after the first statement was received, saying that the program had not been changed.

Neither the White House or the USAID spokesperson indicated how long the program would continue, nor did they address why the memo had been sent.

The White House originally referred questions from CNN about the program to representatives of first lady Melania Trump, who declined to comment.

The news network had obtained internal emails directing Peace Corps employees not to use the “Let Girls Learn” name or branding. The emails, from Peace Corps acting director Sheila Crowley, said that while they may continue some “Let Girls Learn” projects, the Peace Corps would no longer maintain a stand-alone “Let Girls Learn” program.

In an initial statement, a spokesperson from USAID told The Independent the agency is "committed to empowering women and girls around the world" and are "continuing to examine the best ways to do so."

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Ms Obama launched the $250 million initiative in 2015 with the aim of using public and private partnerships to fund “new efforts to expand educational opportunities for girls – including in areas of conflict and crisis.”

In the two years since its formation, the program has invested at least $1 billion in programming in 50 different countries. Much of that funding came in the form of donations from more than 100 companies and 11 other nations – some of which gave up to $600 million.

The Obama administration had attempted to fortify the program last year, announcing $5 million in private sector donations to “Let Girls Learn” projects. Tina Tchen, Ms Obama's former chief of staff, told CNN the programme had secured several more year’s worth of funding.

"We were hopeful that given that, it could continue,” Ms Tchen said. “But obviously elections have consequences, and nobody knows that better than we."

Announcing the discontinuation of the programme, Ms Crowley said her agency was “proud” of what the program accomplished.

'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," Crowley wrote in her email to employees.

The Peace Corps did not respond to requests for additional comment.

Mr Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, has largely taken on the role of advising the president on women's empowerment. The first daughter, however, seems more focused on empowering women in business. She hosted a dinner party for CEOs to discuss women in the workforce in February, and orchestrated the creation of a joint US-Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders-Female Entrepreneurs.

On a trip to Germany this month, Ms Trump announced the creation of a fund to benefit female entrepreneurs around the world.

Critics expressed their dissatisfaction with the discontinuation of "Let Girls Learn" using Ms Trump's signature hashtag.

"It's harder to have #WomenWhoWork if you don't #LetGirlsLearn," former Organising for America communications director Jesse Lehrich tweeted.

Also on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue rolled back parts of Ms Obama’s other signature project, the National School Lunch Program. Republicans often complained about the “burdens” of the program, which required all school meals to meet Institute of Medicine nutritional guidelines.

Mr Perdue said the Trump administration would relax those regulations going forward.

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