By Emmie Heiserman
International Women's Initiative Staff Writer
In 2015 Michelle Obama helped launch the Let Girls Learn campaign and this week she gave a speech to a group of young women that promoted the education of girls across the world during a presidential visit to Argentina. In this speech she touched on sexist obstacles that she has fought to not hold her back in her pursuit of an education just because she was a girl as well as the importance for girls to staying in school and obtain an education.
Obama reminisced on the days when she grew up in a low-income part of Chicago. Her teachers would call on boys in her class rather than herself because they didn’t think she was smart enough. She also brought up how rather than being asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, like her brother, she was asked about what she wanted her future husband to be like. She also discussed catcalling and the objectification she received from others about her own body. Despite all of these messages that she received from the people around her, Obama stated, “I decided not to listen to the voices of those who doubted or dismissed me. Instead, I decided to listen to my own voice.”
Let Girls Learn highlights the lack of education for 62 million girls around the world who are not in school and the consequences associated with not getting and education.
For uneducated girls, child marriage is a huge problem that is strikingly common amongst girls in the developing world who are often married to men much older than themselves. The UN estimates that 33% of girls in these areas are married before the age of 18. It is proven however, that education tends to delay the age that girls and young women get married. In developing countries, girls who obtain a secondary school education are six times less likely to be victim to child marriage when compared to girls who have little to no education.
Let Girls Learn also highlights the health of girls and how education prevents medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth, which contribute as, “leading cause[s] of death among adolescent girls in developing countries.” U.S. AID estimates in sub-Saharan and South and West Asia 60% fewer girls would become pregnant under the age of 17 if they all were able to obtain a secondary education.
Educating girls even goes past individuals and makes a huge impact on the lives of others through eliminating poverty and hunger, two of the main reasons why girls are being excluded from the classroom. UNESCO estimates one extra year of school increases an individual’s earnings by up to 10% while also raising the GDP (gross domestic product) by 0.37%. This means that the economy of a given country is positively impacted when education as a tool to benefit its citizens. In addition, educating girls gives women tools to become strong leaders within their communities, creating a cycle of gender empowerment and success for women across the globe.
In her speech, Obama urges women and girls across the world to not accept defeat while trying to obtain an education in addition to highlighting how many girls across the world do not have the resources to attend school due to outdated cultural traditions, lack of financial resources, and safety issues. She calls for the avocation of education for girls to create women leaders across the world ensuring that girls worldwide have the same opportunities to an education regardless of their location or background.
We are urging government leaders to support women and their communities by investing time and money into girls education but in addition, we all have a responsibility to ensure girls world wide have access to an education. To learn more about how to get involved with Let Girls Learn, visit: https://letgirlslearn.gov.
It is time to let girls learn.