Op-Ed by First Lady Michelle Obama: "Throw the School Gates Open to Girls Everywhere"
Right now, more than 62m girls around the world are out of school — a heartbreaking injustice that deprives these girls of the chance to develop their potential. Too often, young women face insurmountable barriers to attend school: unaffordable school fees; early and forced marriage and pregnancy; and societal beliefs that girls are simply less worthy of an education than boys.
This is not just a moral issue — it is a serious public health issue: girls who attend secondary school marry and have children later, have lower rates of maternal and infant mortality and HIV/Aids, and are more likely to immunise their children. It is a national security issue, as education is one of the best weapons we have in the fight against violent extremism. And girls’ education is an urgent economic issue. Studies show that each additional year a girl attends school can increase her earning power by 10 to 20 per cent, and that sending more girls to secondary school can boost a country’s entire economy.
But for me, this is not just about policy or economics. This is deeply personal, because I come to this issue not just as a first lady but as a mother.
Every time I meet these girls on my travels abroad, I am blown away by their passion, intelligence and hunger to learn — and I cannot help but see my daughters in them. Like my own girls, each of these young women has the spark of something extraordinary inside. The only difference is that my girls have had the opportunity to develop their promise. So all of us who are parents and grandparents need to ask ourselves whether we would ever accept our own precious girls being pulled out of school and married off to grown men at the age of 12, becoming pregnant at 13, confined to a life of dependence and, often times, fear and abuse.
That kind of life is unthinkable for the girls in our lives, so why would we accept this fate for any girl on this planet?
This week I will join Prime Minister David Cameron in London to begin to answer that question, and announce a series of new partnerships between the US and the UK to educate adolescent girls in developing countries around the world.
The UK has long been a global leader for adolescent girls’ education worldwide. America has invested as well, launching an initiative earlier this year called Let Girls Learn, which includes efforts by US Peace Corps volunteers to help communities in developing countries find their own solutions, such as girls’ leadership camps and mentorship programmes.
Our new partnerships build on these efforts, bringing new focus to reach even more adolescent girls across the globe. Among them is an effort of up to $180m over five years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which will benefit more than 750,000 girls.
In addition, our development agencies and two of our countries’ leading universities will collaborate on evidence-based research to determine the best ways to educate adolescent girls. And British and American partners will work together to support teacher training, girls’ leadership camps, and other community-based programmes in developing countries.
Combined, these efforts total nearly $200m — but, given the scope of this challenge, even that is nowhere near sufficient. Girls’ education is a global issue that requires a global solution. That’s why, in March, I travelled to Japan and stood with Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as we announced a similar partnership between the US and Japan to help girls worldwide attend school.
I intend to use my remaining time as first lady — and beyond — to rally leaders across the globe to join us in this work. Because every girl, no matter where she lives, deserves the opportunity to develop the promise inside of her.
The writer is the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.