President Obama tells African leaders: educate girls and help your countries to succeed

Girls' education

Barack Obama has told the leaders of African nations that they must educate their girls and treat their women as equals if they are to be prosperous.

Addressing the African Union in Ethiopia today, the United States President said: “If you want your country to grow and succeed, you have to empower your women.”

He reiterated the points made in an earlier speech in Kenya, when he sent an emphatic message that educating girls and not treating them as second-class citizens is key to countries becoming economic success stories.

President Obama spoke to the African Union in Addis Ababa at the end of his five-day trip to Ethiopia and Kenya, where his father came from.

He called for an end to child marriage and female genital mutilation, telling national leaders: “When African girls are subjected to the mutilation of their bodies or forced into marriage at the ages of nine or 10 or 11, that sets us back. That’s not a good tradition. It needs to end.

“When more than 80% of new HIV cases in the hardest-hit countries are teenage girls, that’s a tragedy.”

He spoke about a partnership between the US government and 10 African countries to keep teenage girls safe and free of AIDS. He also mentioned his wife Michelle’s initiative Let Girls Learn, which aims to expand access to education for adolescent girls around the world.

Prssident Obama added: “When girls cannot go to school and grow up not knowing how to read or write that denies the world future women engineers, future women doctors, future women business owners, future women presidents. That sets us all back. That’s a bad tradition. Not providing our girls the same education as our sons.

“The single best indicator of whether a nation will succeed is how it treats its women. When women have health care and women have education families are stronger, communities are more prosperous, children do better in school.”

During his visit to Kenya, President Obama said one of the most successful development policies was “giving girls an education and removing the obstacles that stand between them and their dreams”.

President Obama speaks in Nairobi Picture: White House Photo by Pete Souza

He added: “Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women, allowing them to maximise their potential, is doomed to fall behind in a global economy.

“if you educate girls, they grow up to be moms. And they, because they’re educated, are more likely to produce educated children. So Kenya will not succeed if it treats women and girls as second-class citizens. I want to be very clear about that.”

Speaking to a crowd of 4500 students civil society leaders and others at a sports arena in the capital Nairobi on July 26, President Obama called on the country’s youth to help build the future of their country.

He highlighted the achievements of young Kenyans such as child rights activist Josephine Kulea, whose foundation rescues girls from child marriage and FGM.

He said: “Treating women and girls as second-class citizens, those are bad traditions. They need to change. They’re holding you back.

Students among the excited crowd to see him in Nairobi

“There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilised society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century.”

An estimated 26% of girls in Kenya are married before they are 18, according to the organisation Girls Not Brides.

Its website says says: “A high prevalence of HIV in Kenya means that young married girls are particularly at risk. In a study in Kisumu, 33% of married girls surveyed were infected with HIV as opposed to 22% for their sexually active, unmarried counterparts.”

The Kenyan parliament adopted a new law last year – setting 18 as the minimum age of marriage for both men and women. It applies to all forms of marriage including Islamic and customary marriages.

In pictures: Kenyan students at school named after Obama

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