Michelle Obama to Publicize Need for Girls’ Education in Asia

18 March, 2015

The wife of President Barack Obama is on a five-day trip to Asia. First Lady Michelle Obama is visiting Japan and Cambodia to help publicize an Obama administration program called "Let Girls Learn." Administration officials set up the campaign to support the education of millions of girls worldwide.

Before her trip, Mrs. Obama and her husband noted the inability of an estimated 62-million girls to attend school. They said educating the girls should be a foreign policy goal.

This week, "The Wall Street Journal" newspaper published an opinion piece by First Lady Michelle Obama. Her piece criticized the fact that tens of millions of girls are not receiving a satisfactory education.

Michelle Obama to Publicize Need for Girls’ Education in Asia
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, right, is greeted by an unidentified Japanese official upon her arrival at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Mrs. Obama wrote that this failure to educate girls is more than "a tragic waste of potential." She said it is both a serious public health issue and a problem for the economic health of nations and the world. She also said it was "a threat to the security of countries around the world."

The First Lady noted that by 2012, every part of the developing world was educating both girls and boys in primary schools. But she said this is not the case in secondary education. Mrs. Obama wrote that, in some areas, girls face "the cultural values and practices that define and limit the prospects of women in their societies."

The Obama administration launched the "Let Girls Learn" campaign earlier this month. At the time, Mrs. Obama noted plans to involve the U.S. Peace Corps, the volunteer development agency.

"This effort will draw on the talent and energy of the nearly 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers serving in more than 60 countries. Through this effort, Peace Corps will be supporting hundreds of new community projects to help girls go to school and stay in school. And, I want to emphasize that these programs will be community-generated and community-led. They will be based on solutions devised by local leaders, families and yes, even the girls themselves."

President Obama spoke at the same White House event. He said the campaign is important to his administration.

"We know that, when girls are educated, they're more likely to delay marriage. Their future children, as a consequence, are more likely to be healthy and better nourished. Their future wages increase, which, in turn, strengthens the security of their family, and national growth gets a boost as well. From a political standpoint and a security standpoint, places where women and girls are treated as full and equal citizens tend to be more stable, tend to be more democratic. So, this is not just a humanitarian issue. This is an economic issue and it is a security issue, and that's why it has to be a foreign policy priority."

Mrs. Obama's first stop on her Asian trip is Japan. The Peace Corps and a similar group in Japan -- called "Overseas Cooperation Volunteers" -- will work together on the campaign.

From Japan, Mrs. Obama travels to Cambodia. Evan Medeiros is the senior director for Asia affairs at the U.S. National Security Council in Cambodia. He says during her visit, Mrs. Obama plans to note the need for an open political system. She will also talk about the need to let civil society have a say in good governance.

Phil Robertson is the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. He says Cambodia has much work to do to ensure all of its girls are educated.

"And, in fact, we just released a report last week about the women and girls in the garment sector, which is the major export industry of Cambodia and over 92-percent of the workers in that industry are women and girls. We found that there're systematic abuses taking place in the garment factories in Cambodia. Their sending products to the likes of Gap and others (corporations) overseas, and the problem that we found was girls are going into these factories that, for all intents and purposes, is the end of their education."

Phil Robertson says many of the girls are driven to the factories because of a lack of food at home. The rights report says many young women may face sexual pressure on the job and discrimination if they become pregnant.

Cambodia is one of 11 countries partnering in the Let Girls Learn Campaign. The others are Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda.

I'm Marsha James.

Victor Beattie reported this story from Washington. Marsha James wrote it for VOA Learning English. Christopher Jones-Cruise was the editor.


Words in This Story

tragic adj. involving very sad or serious issues

gendern. the state of being a male or female

devise – v. to invent or plan (something that is difficult or complicated); to develop

consequence n. result or results

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