In his final State of the Union address, President Obama gave a shout-out to wife Michelle's education efforts in what could be a blink-and-you-missed-it moment. Throughout his presidency, Obama and the first lady have proven to be strong advocates for girls, a point the president seemed to gracefully hint at when discussing the "extraordinary change" America faces. Obama said:
It's change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families. It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It's change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.
If you're not very familiar with the Obama administration's track record on important issues relative to young girls and women, you might not realize that when he's talking about change which allows for "girls in the most remote villages" to receive an education, he could very well be talking about change brought forth by him and his wife.
The education of girls worldwide has been a particular focus for Michelle, who launched the initiative Let Girls Learn in partnership with Obama last March. The initiative aims to help the 62 million girls who don't attend school worldwide receive an education through programs and resources geared at overcoming social, cultural, and economic barriers that currently prevent adolescent girls from completing their education. The first lady organized a social media campaign under the hashtag #62MillionGirls in September to draw attention to the issue. Michelle took her message of education to the Middle East late last year in an effort to combat cultural stigmas that sometimes keep girls in the region from receiving an education.
"If we truly want to get girls into our classrooms, then we need to have an honest conversation about how we view and treat women in our societies," Michelle said, while speaking in Qatar at an education conference. "And this conversation needs to happen in every country on this planet, including my own."
During his presidency, Obama has aggressively pursued programs — such as his Race to the Top program — that aim to connect women and girls with high-paying, high-skilled jobs, like those in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries. The Obama Administration, along with the Departments of Justice and Education, has also sought to address racial disparities in school discipline as a means to end the so-called "school-to-prison pipeline" for minority girls.
With a limited amount of time left in office, Obama used his final State of the Union to tout his presidency's achievements and attempt to influence the narrative of the 2016 presidential election. His highlighting of the inequality women still face and the necessity of fighting for help girls in all corners of the world receive and education give hope that women's issues will remain at the forefront of debate issues as this election cycle kicks into high gear.