First Lady Michelle Obama delivered an inspiring speech promoting girls’ education in June at London’s Mulberry School.
The London visit was the latest effort to promote her Let Girls Learn initiative, and followed visits to Japan and Cambodia. In her speech, Obama announced a $200 million partnership between the United States and United Kingdom to invest in girls’ education worldwide. She drew connections between her own challenges accessing education as a low-income Black girl in Chicago and those of the all-girls Mulberry School, where 70 percent of students receive free lunch and many are immigrants who face racism and Islamophobia. Despite these challenges, 83 percent of Mulberry graduates attend college.
“Perhaps like a lot of you, we grew up surrounded by our extended family,” said Obama. “So our home was often busy with family coming and going. And because our apartment was so small, there wasn’t much privacy. I can remember how hard it was to concentrate on my homework, because someone was always talking or watching TV right next to you.”
Let Girls Learn is an initiative that will increase funding for girls’ education in existing U.S. investments in primary education. Obama will partner with the Peace Corps to recruit and train an additional 650 volunteers to work with communities to increase girls’ access to education.
18 year old Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai recently lobbied members of Congress to increase funding for the initiative. “It is time that a bold and clear commitment is made by the U.S. to increase funding and support governments around the world to provide 12 years of free primary and secondary education for everyone by 2030,” said Yousafzai.
Girls are far less likely than boys to attend school in many parts of the world, due to safety concerns, inadequate menstrual care, and preferences for educating male children, among many other barriers. This translates into an astounding 62 million girls who are not in school and are at increased risk for child marriage, economic instability, and health problems.
Girls Learn International (GLI), a Feminist Majority Foundation program, educates US students in middle and high school about human rights with a focus on girls’ education. Chapters in the US are partnered with schools in 11 countries where girls still lag behind boys in access to education and opens communication between American students and students abroad.