WASHINGTON – First lady Michelle Obama celebrated International Women’s Day Tuesday with 200 women at a small, hip market in Northeast D.C., marking the one year anniversary of the Let Girls Learn initiative.
Sixty-two million girls around the world are not in school today, Obama said. Let Girls Learn is an initiative to shrink that number. Obama and the Peace Corps are working with communities to get rid of barriers young girls face when it comes to getting an education.
Over the past few years, Obama has traveled around the world and worked with experts to better understand this issue. She said the lack of scholarships or transportation aren’t the only reasons girls aren’t in school.
“It’s also about attitudes and beliefs,” she said. “The belief that women simply aren’t worthy of an education, that women should have no role outside the home, that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard.”
Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said education affects the way women are perceived their entire lives.
“When girls and young women are denied their rightful place at a desk at school, it all but guarantees that they will be denied seats at other tables for the rest of their lives,” she said.
Obama said the stories of girls who have had horrifying barriers to an education made her want change. She mentioned Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl shot in the head for standing up for young girls’ right to an education. Obama said another horrifying reality is the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram terrorists.
Even though she has been fortunate enough to not face any of these horrors, she said she can still relate as a woman.
“Like most women, I know how it feels to be overlooked, to be underestimated, to have someone only half listen to your ideas at a meeting – to see them turn to the man next to you, the man you supervise, and assume he’s in charge – or to experience those whistles and taunts as you walk down the street,” she said.
With her work this year, Obama said she knows that young girls know how important an education is, and they are doing everything they can to get one – from riding their bikes miles to get to school, to studying at old broken desks and trying to get noticed by the teacher.
“They feel it in their bones, and they will do whatever it takes to get that education,” she said.
The president’s 2017 budget includes $100 million in new funds for the initiative, building on the $250 million in funds requested in the 2016 budget to launch the initiative. Foreign governments such as Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom have all pledged to fund global education programming for young girls.
The initiative is also receiving funding from both the public and private sector.
Reach reporter Tia Rinehart at tia.Rinehart@scripps.com or 202-408-1490. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Download photos: Girls.zip