Michelle Obama Started A New Initiative All About Putting Girls First

by Lauren Holter
Shannon Finney/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The former first lady took another step toward achieving her long-term goal of helping more girls around the world get an education on Thursday. In an interview with the Today show, which happened to fall on International Day of the Girl, Michelle Obama announced the Global Girls Alliance, a new Obama Foundation program focused on girls' education.

"We want to lift up the grassroots leaders in communities all over the world who are clearing away the hurdles that too many girls face," Obama said in a press release announcing her new initiative. "Because the evidence is clear: educating girls isn’t just good for the girls, it’s good for all of us."

Globally, 98 million adolescent girls are not in school, according the United States Agency for International Development, while girls with an education are less likely to get married at an early age, less likely to die in childbirth, and less likely to find work. The World Bank believes educating girls and ending child marriage is critical to eradicating poverty. So, the Global Girls Alliance wants to get more girls in school by creating an online network of people working on girls' education, offering financial support to specific community efforts, and raising awareness about the problem.

In an op-ed released by the Obama Foundation, the former first lady described visiting a high school in Liberia that didn't have electricity. What she remembers most, she wrote, is "the promise inside each of those girls — girls who show up every day to learn."

Despite the challenges of trying to learn in the dark when clouds roll over the sun, the students at that school are luckier than the millions of girls who don't have the opportunity to go to school at all. Scarce resources, early pregnancies, dangerous commutes, and threats of violence keep them out of school, Obama wrote.

"Equally pernicious is something they're taught from an early age — the belief that because they're girls, they're simply unworthy of an education," she said in the op-ed. "It's the same toxic mindset that keeps girls here in the United States from believing they can become computer scientists or CEOs. And it's a mindset that together, we've got to change."

The initiative aims to build on the efforts of organizations that have worked on this issue for decades, including finding "fresh ways of empowering those working on the ground to support these girls," according to Obama.

Her op-ed called on everyone to get involved, whether that means visiting the Global Girls Alliance website to learn more about why girls' education is important or donating what you can to projects vetted by the program. It's set up GoFundMe pages for initiatives from India to Malawi, with details about how each will work to help more girls in the community get an education.

The same day Obama's initiative launched, Reps. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) introduced the Keeping Girls in School Act, seeking to close the gender gap for education globally.

“We must break down the barriers that keep girls out of the classroom,” Brooks said in a press release. “When girls stay in school their communities are healthier, wealthier, and safer.”