First Lady Michelle Obama writes in the Wall Street Journal on the Let Girls Learn initiative and our efforts to expand access to education for girls around the world. Read a few excerpts below, and check out the full op-ed here.
This week I will travel to Tokyo to join Akie Abe, the wife of Japan’s prime minister, as the United States and Japan announce a new partnership to educate girls across the globe. As part of this effort, the U.S. government has launched an international initiative, called “Let Girls Learn,” to help girls in developing countries go to school and stay in school.
These new investments—along with previous investments by countries like the United Kingdom—reflect a growing global consensus that when 62 million girls world-wide are not in school, that is not only a tragic waste of human potential. It is also a serious public-health challenge, a drag on national economies and global prosperity, and a threat to the security of countries around the world, including our own.
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We cannot address the issue of girls’ education unless we are also willing to confront the complex issues that keep so many girls out of school in the first place: from female genital cutting/mutilation, to early and forced marriage, to economic disincentives like unaffordable school fees and the loss of girls’ household labor.
Safety is a perfect example. Many parents in the developing world are afraid that their daughters will be sexually assaulted while walking to or from school. This is an understandable concern to which any parent can relate. But in many communities, parents aren’t just worried about terrible physical and emotional harm to their daughters, they are also worried about the harm to her marriage prospects—that she’ll be considered “damaged goods” and have no one to provide for her in adulthood.
Consequently, in working to educate girls, we are often asking people to change or disregard deeply held community values and traditions and do what seems to be against their daughters’ best interests. So while the education gender gap is a global challenge, its root causes are often local, and they call for local solutions. That is the guiding principle behind Let Girls Learn, which is centered around a new, community-focused initiative run by the Peace Corps.
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While the focus of this work is international, Let Girls Learn is also about inspiring young people here at home to commit to their education. Through Let Girls Learn, I want girls—and boys—here in the U.S. to learn about the challenges girls world-wide face in getting an education. I want them to understand that even though their own school might be far from perfect—and my husband is working hard to change that—they still have a responsibility to show up every day and learn as much as they can. And I want them to connect with other young people from every background and nationality, particularly young women who set such a powerful example.
Read the full Wall Street Journal op-ed here.