Cultural norms will have to be challenged if education for girls is to be improved around the world, the first lady of the US Michelle Obama has said.
Addressing this year’s World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha this morning, Ms Obama stressed that although many countries achieved parity in primary school access for boys and girls, “when it comes to secondary education, girls still lag far behind”.
Those girls who did manage to attend often risked their lives to do so, she said, as the examples of Malala Yousafzai and the girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria showed. “Even when girls do manage to finish secondary school, in many countries they graduate only to find there is no place for them in the workforce, nowhere for them to use the skills they worked so hard to develop,” Ms Obama added.
It was essential to build more schools, hire more teachers for girls and set up bathroom facilities for them, the first lady said. However, she stressed that resources were not enough, and attitudes to women and girls also had to change. “It is about resources, but it is also about attitudes and behaviours,” she said. “We want parents to think their daughters are just as worthy of education as their sons.”
Ms Obama added: “We have to provide girls with safe transport to school, but we need to confront the cultural norms that make them unsafe in the first place.”
The first lady recalled that she herself had met people in her childhood who thought she would not be able to attend the best universities and should not set her sights too high. However, she said, she had parents who “believed in me, who had big dreams for me”. Tracing her own story from childhood into the White House, Ms Obama concluded: “Education can carry our children such great distances.”