WASHINGTON: US First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday called on her fellow presidential spouses from across Africa to “fight for our girls,” saying no girl should fear getting an education.
Obama alluded indirectly to the plight of schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist rebels in Nigeria in a panel discussion with former first lady Laura Bush on the closing day of a US summit with African leaders.
“We have to fight for our girls,” she said, speaking to an audience of other first ladies attending the summit, in a nod to the Twitter activist hashtag #bringbackourgirls.
“There should never be a girl in the world who has to fear getting educated. That is something that should be intolerable to all of us.”
In a conversation with Bush and moderator Cokie Roberts that dealt with their children, their projects and the pressure and satisfactions of their unique roles as model women, Obama said she thought of what she wanted for her own daughters — Malia and Sasha.
“And if it’s good enough for our girls it should be good enough for every single girl in the world,” she said.
“But it’s going to take leadership like us, women like us, speaking up in our countries and making sure that young girls are not subject to abuse and are loved and valued.
“And until we do that we will not solve these problems.”
Although the summit has dealt mainly with investment and economic opportunity in Africa, it also has raised challenges in a region often known for conflicts, famine and harsh treatment of women.
More than 200 schoolgirls remain in captivity nearly four months after being abducted by Boko Haram rebels who stormed a school in northeast Nigeria on April 14 and have carried out more raids since.
The summit has also heard of rape and sexual assault on a massive scale in strife-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
A theme of the summit has been to highlight how the education and empowerment of girls and women in Africa are key to the continent’s future prosperity.
The session was inspired by Bush, who last year in Dar es Salaam launched “The First Ladies Initiative,” an annual gathering of presidential spouses to discuss ways they can support women.
Bush said the first ladies had a unique platform to help women to make sure education and involvement in their countries’ economic lives are available equally to boys and girls.
“Because only countries where all people are involved can be successful,” she said.
In an open letter published Wednesday in Seventeen.com, the online version of a magazine whose target audience is young girls, Obama noted that 62 million girls around the world are not in school.
She said the reasons were varied but often the problem is rooted not in resources but in “attitudes and beliefs” that give boys priority in education or force girls into marriage at a very young age.
In panel discussions, women who work in girls’ education in Africa shared their experiences with the first ladies.