This week, I’ll be traveling to Africa – to Liberia and Morocco – and then to Spain to highlight an issue I care deeply about: global girls’ education – the fact that right now, more than 62 million girls around the world aren’t in school.
I know it can be hard to wrap your mind around such an overwhelming statistic, especially since, growing up here in the U.S., we all just take it for granted that we’ll get a free public education through high school. But in many parts of the world, that’s simply not the case – particularly for girls.
Sometimes the problem is resources. Unlike in the U.S., in many countries parents are required to pay school fees and cover the cost of books and uniforms, and a large number of families simply can’t afford to send their daughters to school. Sometimes girls live in remote villages hours from the nearest school, and they have no safe way to get there each day. And sometimes there is a school nearby, but it might not have adequate bathroom facilities for girls – or girls might not be able to afford pads or tampons – so they have to stay home every time they have their period.
Just think about that for a minute. Imagine what high school would have been like if you missed a week of school every month because of your menstrual cycle. Imagine how far behind you would have fallen. That’s exactly what happens in many parts of the world – after missing so much class, girls just can’t keep up, and they wind up dropping out.
But often, the issue isn’t just money and infrastructure, it’s also attitudes and beliefs – whether families and communities think girls are worthy of an education, or whether they believe girls should be kept at home to help with household labor, or should be married off young, sometimes before they’re even teenagers.
For me, this is where this issue gets personal, because as I’ve traveled around the world, I have met so many of these girls. And I can tell you, these girls are ambitious – they dream of being doctors, teachers, scientists, entrepreneurs – just like girls here in the U.S. And these girls are hardworking. They get up before dawn and spend hours cooking, cleaning, and harvesting their families’ crops. Then they walk miles to and from school and study for hours at night by candlelight, determined to seize any opportunity to learn.
So just imagine the heartbreak they feel when, at the age of 11 or 12, someone tells them, “Sorry, no more school for you. Forget all those dreams you have for yourself and get ready to marry a man twice your age and start having children of your own.” Imagine how you would have felt if someone had said that to you when you were a girl.
It’s unthinkable, right? But today, that is the fate of millions of girls around the world. And I simply cannot accept that – none of us should.
Like for many of you, my own education was everything for me. Neither of my parents had gone to college, but they pushed me to succeed in high school and apply to college and law school, where I learned how to think analytically, write clearly, and advocate forcefully for myself and others. And those degrees led to opportunities my parents never could have imagined for themselves.
I believe every girl on this planet should have that same opportunity to fulfill her promise and shape her own destiny. And we know that giving girls that chance doesn’t just transform their life prospects – it transforms the prospects of their families and their countries too, since girls who are educated earn higher salaries, raise healthier families, and can even boost their countries’ economies with their contributions to the workforce.
That’s why, last year, President Obama and I launched Let Girls Learn, an initiative to help adolescent girls worldwide attend school.
As part of that effort, this week, I’ll be meeting with young women in Liberia and Morocco to highlight their stories and to announce major new investments that the U.S. Government will be making to help girls in these two countries get an education. I’ll be joined by award-winning actresses and education advocates, Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto, and by an outstanding CNN correspondent named Isha Sesay, who are working together to create a CNN film highlighting the stories of girls who are struggling to get an education.
Finally, I’ll be ending my trip in Spain where I’ll be giving a speech to a group of young women who are in high school and college, and I’ll be urging them to do their part to help girls worldwide attend school. And that’s really the key point I want to make during this trip to young women like you here at home: You have the power, right now, to step up and be a champion for those 62 million girls who aren’t in school. You have everything you need right now to raise awareness about their stories and to support their efforts to get an education.
If you follow this blog over the course of this week, you’ll get a window into these girls’ lives – you’ll learn about their challenges, their successes, their hopes and dreams – and you’ll find out what you can do to help them get the education they need and deserve. So I hope you’ll join me. I’ll be posting daily here on HelloGiggles as well as on Twitter (@FLOTUS), Instagram (@MichelleObama), and Snapchat (MichelleObama). And you can go to 62MillionGirls.com to start learning more about global girls’ education today.