Michelle Obama is not going to stop until education for girls everywhere isn't a luxury. The First Lady wrote about girls' education for The Atlantic, where she said the issue stems from things like poor resource allocation, yes, but that it's perpetuated by cultures that treat girls as lesser than from the beginning. The most poignant quotes from Michelle Obama's essay on educating girls around the world make a convincing argument for why the issue is something the U.S. has a moral obligation to address.
Obama began the essay with a pretty striking fact: "62 million girls worldwide are not in school" right now, she wrote. She said that the problem is often framed as a matter of resources — that if we give girls scholarships, transportation, adequate bathrooms so they don't have to stay home or drop out when they get their periods, then we can help solve the "global girls' education crisis."
To help with the resource problem, Obama and the president launched the Let Girls Learn initiative, which helps provide all of the above resources while also educating girls in conflict areas and addressing HIV, according to her essay. Obama said that all of these material and circumstantial needs are important, but there are bigger, cultural problems that need fixing, according to The Atlantic:
Scholarships, bathrooms, and safe transportation will only go so far if societies still view menstruation as shameful and shun menstruating girls. Or if they fail to punish rapists and reject survivors of rape as "damaged goods." Or if they provide few opportunities for women to join the workforce and support their families, so that it's simply not financially viable for parents struggling with poverty to send their daughters to school. In other words, we cannot address our girls' education crisis until we address the broader cultural beliefs and practices that can help cause and perpetuate this crisis.
Obama's words were spot on, and she said that she will be presenting a similar argument when she travels to the Middle East next week. She said she will urge developing nations to challenge laws that turn the other way from (or even condone) practices like genital cutting and mutilation, forced marriage, and marital rape. She said that the U.S. is evidence that people need to challenge unjust laws to change a culture, but that can't happen if women are allowed to be beaten for speaking up:
A century ago, women in America couldn't even vote. Decades ago, it was perfectly legal for employers to refuse to hire women, and domestic violence was seen not as a crime, but as a private family matter. But in each generation, brave people — both men and women — stood up to change these practices. They did it through individual acts like taking their bosses to court, fighting to prosecute their rapists, and leaving their abusive husbands — and through national movements and legislation that brought changes like the 19th Amendment, Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act.
Obama said that changing a culture so that it empowers young women instead of silencing them has positive tangible impacts:
Girls who are educated marry later, have lower rates of infant and maternal mortality, and are more likely to immunize their children and less likely to contract HIV. Educated girls also earn higher salaries — 15 to 25 percent more for each additional year of secondary school — and studies have shown that sending more girls to school can boost an entire country's GDP.
Obama wrote that when girls have the opportunity to become educated, they can better advocated for their needs an stand up against injustice. The education of girls comes full circle with economic and health impacts, but it's also important simply because girls are human beings who deserve the right to an education so that they can lead the lives they want. For Obama, educating girls is a moral issue:
These girls are no different from my daughters or any of our daughters. And we should never have to accept our girls having their bodies mutilated or being married off to grown men as teenagers, confined to lives of dependence and abuse. We should never have to raise them in societies that silence their voices and snuff out their dreams. None of us here in the U.S. would accept this for our own daughters and granddaughters, so why would we accept it for any girl on our planet? As a first lady, a mother, and a human being, I cannot walk away from these girls, and I plan to keep raising my voice on their behalf for the rest of my life.
The girls Obama has met while traveling for the Let Girls Learn initiative have shown her just why she can't stop fighting, and her passion is contagious:
As I've traveled the world, I have met so many of these girls. I've seen firsthand that every single one of them has the spark of something extraordinary inside of them, and they are so hungry to realize their promise. They walk for hours each day to school, learning at rickety desks in bare concrete classrooms. They study for hours each night, holding tight to their hopes for the future, even in the face of heartbreaking odds.
Obama said that she will continue her work abroad, by telling world leaders about the power of investing in girls' education. But it's clear that Obama thinks Americans should do more work to show that girls around the world ought to be valued "as human beings," and she's totally right:
And I plan to keep talking about this issue here at home, because I believe that all of us — men and women, in every country on this planet — have a moral obligation to give all of these girls a future worthy of their promise and their dreams.