Michelle Obama: ‘Right now there are more than 62 million girls who are not in school.’

Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama recently addressed a group of over 200 activists who represent some of the over 1,000 GirlUp Clubs all over the world.

She stressed the importance of educating girls to the group, who had arrived in Washington to attend a leadership summit to learn how to better advocate for girls all over the world.

Now, as you heard, right now there are more than 62 million girls who are not in school. And many of them simply can’t afford tuition, because unlike here in America, in many countries, parents have to pay to send their kids to school. And sometimes, the nearest school might be miles away, and it’s simply not safe for girls to walk to and from each day. Or even if there is a school nearby, it might not have adequate bathroom facilities, so when girls have their periods, they have to stay home. And then they fall behind and wind up dropping out. And then in some communities, girls are forced to get married and have children at a very young age -– sometimes before they’re even teenagers -– so they never have a chance to finish their education.

And I want you all to just think about that for a minute. Just think about that. Think about what it would be like to see your brothers, your male cousins all going off every day to school while you were stuck at home. Imagine having to drop out of school at the age of 12 or 13 and marry some man in his forties or fifties, and then have your first baby by the time you’re 14 or 15. So any chance you had to study the subjects that you love –- math, English, art, science –- all that would be gone. And all those dreams you had for your career, all those ambitions? Those are gone too. And if you’re unhappy, if your husband abuses you, there’s absolutely nothing you can do. You are trapped, totally dependent, with no way to provide for yourself and your children.

Now, just take all of those emotions and multiply that by 62 million, and just think about the kind of suffering that represents. Think about how many of those 62 million girls might have the potential to discover a cure for cancer, or to run a company, or to write one of the great novels of our time and right now, all of that talent is just going to waste — 62 million girls.

And then I want you to think about how does that reality make you feel? Heartbroken? Angry? Overwhelmed? Well, when you’re trying to pick an issue that you want to tackle, that’s a pretty good place to start — with your emotion. In fact, I think you should always start with whatever issue moves you — moves you right here. That’s the best way to know how to invest your time.

And I want to just tell you, I am passionate about these 62 million girls. Whenever I have a chance to meet any of them around the world -– in Africa, Southeast Asia and so many other places I’ve had the chance to travel -– I just think about how, growing up, I wasn’t any smarter or harder-working than those girls are. That’s the first thing I think. But I realize, I had opportunities that they could never imagine. And so do all of you.

You all are here today because someone believed in you, because someone gave you the chance to be everything you were meant to be. That’s what a good education does. And when we give girls around the world that kind of opportunity, it doesn’t just transform their lives, it transforms their families, their communities, and their entire countries. In fact, studies show that girls who are educated get married later in life, they have healthier families, they earn higher salaries. And when more girls go to school, that can improve their country’s economy.

So we know that we need to address our girls’ education crisis right now. But the question is, how? How do we do it? I know that numbers like 62 million — that seems just overwhelming, daunting. And it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you can’t really make a difference when you’re thinking those kinds of numbers.

Obama ended the speech on an uplifting note. She thanked the organization for pledging $50,000 to her “Let Girls Learn” initiative, and concluded simply stating: “You’re going to be able to change this issue across the globe. So why don’t we get to work, okay?”