The day was marked globally, a celebration of girls and the triumphs girls strive to make despite in the face of all their many challenges. On this special day of October 11th known as “International Day of the Girl”, Glamour, in partnership with The Girl Project, a Glamour philanthropic initiative, teamed up with the White House’s Let Girls Learn initiative, a program that President Obama and the First Lady launched in March 2015 to maximize a whole government-wide system of approaches to promote global education for girls. The event, held at the monumental Newseum studios in DC, is known for how technology can promote free expression in the States and around the world, according to the welcome remarks given by the Newseum President. During the proceedings of this global conversation on the relevance of girls’ education, girls from around the world joined by skype to participate in the panel discussion with First Lady Michelle Obama and the young actress that stars in the TV Series “Blackish”, Yara Shahidi; the panel was moderated by Glamour’s’ editor-in-chief Cindi Leive.
The global conversation exposed the challenges and the status quo of what it means to be a girl in 2016 from various parts of the world. Glamour’s editor-in-chief, Cindi Leive, in an interview said, “We know that incredible things happen when a girl gets an education; that’s why Glamour founded The Girl Project—to help support girls fighting to get the education they deserve. We’re honored to team up with First Lady Michelle Obama and Let Girls Learn to stage this major global moment on behalf of every young woman who wants to make her life better.”
The conversation kicked off with the question posed to both panelists of why education matters. “I wouldn’t be here today without an education,” Mrs Obama stated, further explaining that indeed knowledge is power which is how she developed her confidence and wants to do the same for girls around the world. The actress and activist Yara Shahidi stated that she finds education highly relevant in the development of the girl child as she finds it critical in her growing and hence, the reason she is applying to college to study Sociology. The moment she said that, Mrs Obama handed Yara a high-five, saying she too studied sociology for her college undergraduate degree. Miss Shahidi immediately jumped on board with the question to the First Lady, “Can I get a recommendation letter?” getting a resounding definite “YES!” from the First Lady, who then told the audience, “Now, that is how you seize an opportunity!”
Using Skype, various girl groups from Jordan, Peru, Tanzania, and the UK joined in the conversation. Skyping in from the U.S. embassy in Jordan, the girls from Jordan opened up the conversation: “Jordanian society values education so much. Over the last 35 years, the literacy rate increased from 55% to 99% and now, more women than men go to university, but we can’t deny that we still face some gender stereotypes.” The Jordan girls team then posed a question to the panelists about how change can take place given the cultural perceptions that can be barriers to girls around the world.
The First lady, in response, stated a congratulatory remark on the mentioned progress, but also went on explaining that barriers do occur in various modalities such as some cultures placing more values on their sons than the daughters because they believe that it is a better investment for girls to stay at home. She said that the Let Girls Learn program uses the peace corps on ground in various countries to help understand the issues from a grassroots perspective and strategize on a local level, emphasizing that the only way change can happen is that this generation of girls must raise their girls differently. “My generation inspires me,” Ms. Shahidi said. “The fact that we are interconnected and can have this conversation across the globe tells me that our generation can affect change”.
From the U.S embassy in Lima, Peru- less than half of the girls in village areas finish high schools because their families prefer that boys study. Now in 2016, that is the reality, the girls team stated. The spokesperson for the Peru team stated that even though there is equal access to education, many families still believe girls should stay home, or when they do get a job, they are paid less than boys. How can girls handle situations when they are underestimated because of their gender, asked the team. “Being a teen with all the limitations can be difficult, but it is more about trying to prove yourself right than proving anybody else wrong and by reaffirming your own belief.” the Black-ish star actress and activist answered, going on to share an experience- “Once, a teacher told me I was too direct in my communication and that shook me in the core, that being direct meant too aggressive”. First Lady Michelle inserted, “Aggressive or Bossy” is what they have said to her many times. “Aggressive is Assertive and Loud is confidence,” Mrs Obama said, further encouraging the girls that it is how they take those words and turn them around to be positive attributes that matters. “To compete in schools where boys are always given the benefit of the doubt,” she said, “you have to be aggressive and confident. ignore the haters and surround with the voices of those who believe in you. For me- it was my parents that refilled my courage”
East Africa, Tanzania- “Safety concerns in the country are a challenge and it is unfortunate that they face this at their most vulnerable stage in life,” said the spokesperson for the Tanzanian team. Addressing Mrs Obama as “First Lady of the World”, the young Tanzanian girl said, “ Girls in Tanzania face a safety problem because of traditional beliefs. Female genital mutilation, whereby a private part of the girl is removed, is rampant. Most of the girls die due to excessive bleeding and others acquire diseases like HIV because the tools they use aren’t sterilized. The ones that are circumcised drop out of school and get married. Also, long distances from home to school create safety concerns. Although there are buses for girls who walk, on the way they are attacked by gangs and most are raped which leads to pregnancies and they eventually quit school. Some get married at the age of twelve because of the willingness of the parents and the bride price they will collect or to maintain family friendships.” She asked the panel: “How is the safety of the girls in Africa a focus for Let Girls Learn?” The First Lady replied, “Hearing about stories like yours is what has inspired the Let Girls Learn. Like Malala Yousafzai- the terrorists did not believe that a girl should get an education and neither should she speak about it. The girls in Nigeria were kidnapped for the sheer desire to get education; these are heartbreaking stories from all over the world and it is important for me that we do not tolerate these girls to be locked out of the education process.” She further stated that what will really matter for the United States is that girls in the U.S with the opportunity for an education do not squander and undervalue this chance because there are people who literally die just to go to school.
In the UK at the Mulberry school of girls where Mrs Obama had earlier visited and had met the girls, self-empowerment amidst the opportunities was what was addressed as a challenge. The team spokesperson acknowledged that they are privileged to be in a society where there is equal access to education, stating that for them, school is a place to develop themselves, but self-esteem could pose a challenge sometimes. To that effect, the UK girl spokesperson announced that they will be launching a Girl Leadership Camp at their school called “Girl Leading”.
To that news, Mrs. Obama stated that it is because reasons and stories like these need to be heard that the Let Girls Learn program has raised millions of dollars to make it possible for girls around the world to secure access to education. She promises that even in January after the elections, she will still whole-heartedly pursue this mission. When asked a final thought, Mrs. Obama stated that her favorite book in the world is Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, which she has had Sasha and Malia read multiple times. “The interplay of words can capture a person’s imagination,” she said. “That is the beauty of education. I wish everyone can get access.”