Michelle Obama tells education forum: We need to change attitudes to girls

Girls' education

Michelle Obama told a global forum on education today that attitudes towards girls and women must be changed before the goal of universal schooling can be achieved.

The First Lady of the United States was one of several high-profile speakers at a Global Education First Initiative forum titled Quality Education For The World We Want attended by many world leaders, NGOs and youth activists.

She said tremendous progress had been made, particularly in getting primary-age children into school. But she said if girls’ lives were to be truly transformed they had to be educated as adolescents as well.

Mrs Obama told the forum at the United Nations there is still a real challenge in changing attitudes and beliefs about girls and women.

She added: “Addressing gender-based violence in all of its forms, from domestic violence to genital cutting to early, enforced marriages, all of that needs to be on the agenda too.

Education special envoy Gordon Brown talks to the GEFI forum

“Girls around the world deserve so much better. They do. They are so eager to learn. And so many of them are sacrificing so much just for the chance to get an education.

“I’m thinking about girls like Malala. I’m thinking about those brave girls in Nigeria. I’m thinking about all the girls who will never make the headlines who walk hours to school each day, who study late into the night because they are so hungry to fill every last bit of their God-given potential.

“If we can show just a tiny fraction of their courage and their commitment then I know we can give all of our girls an education worthy of their promise.

“In the years and decades ahead, I am so very eager to engage even more usefully with leaders in this room, across the United States and around the world on this until every young woman on our planet has the opportunity to learn.”

Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, said parents of the missing girls of Chibok are so desolate that they are thinking of organising funerals for their daughters.

He said: “We must give these parents hope. It’s not just Bring Back Our Girls. We must bring back our concern for our girls. We must bring back the international campaign for our girls.”

Chernor Bah introduces First Lady Michelle Obama

Mr Brown said universal education will not be achieved unless safe schools are provided in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

He added that education for all would not happen unless world leaders could find a way to end child trafficking, child marriage and enforced labour. He said a commitment of $6billion would result in huge strides over the next 15 months towards securing the Millennium Development Goal of getting every boy and girl into school and learning by the end of 2015.

The special envoy said young people around the world were now campaigning themselves in a “modern civil rights struggle”. He said it was “a liberation movement that we should be giving support to”.

Other high-profile speakers included UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, Her Highness Sheikha Moza of Qatar and World Bank President Jim Kim.

UN Deputy General-Secretary Jan Eliasson, who highlighted the #UpForSchool Petition, said: “Many countries have shown dramatic progress is possible.”

Mrs Obama was introduced by A World at School co-founder Chernor Bah, who is also also chairman of GEFI’s Youth Advocacy Group.

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