It was a full house in the Apollo Theater last week at Glamour magazine’s The Power of the Educated Girl event. On the stage sat First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, actress Charlize Theron (who is the founder of Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project) and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
These powerhouse women came together to educate the audience about the 62 million girls across the world who lack access to education. For over an hour, the panel spoke of how girls risked their lives every day just for the chance to go to school. Moving, sure. But then one high-schooler in the audience asked the panel a question that stood out from the rest: Why should we care?
Education promotes peace
“If we want to end global poverty, if we want to improve the plight of our country, educating girls is the key to that. It just is,” the first lady responded. Gillard jumped in citing hard facts: “The more time people spend in school, the more likely they are to look for peaceful conflict solutions and the more likely they are to support democracy.” If we want the world to be a more peaceful place, advocating for education for all is crucial.
It keeps people healthy
Theron is from South Africa, where more people are infected with HIV than anywhere else in the world. Through her work, she’s says she’s learned that staying in school has a direct correlation with staying healthy ¬— and not just in South Africa. “In Zimbabwe, girls are five times more likely to not get HIV if they stay in school,” she says.
It breeds next-generation global leaders
Sitting next to Obama on the stage sat Nurfahada, a 16-year-old from the Philippians who shared how hard it was for girls to stay in school in her country. “Many can’t get to school because of violence,” she says. “A lot of girls can’t go to school because they have to work to support their families. But the biggest reason girls drop out of school is because of teenage pregnancy.” Nurfahada has been connecting with global non-profits to ask government officials to pass laws so girls can go to school instead of being pressured to drop out.
“Just imagine if Nurfahada couldn’t get an education,” Obama told the crowd. “What a waste that would be.” Obama stressed that millions of girls around the world had the same exact potential as Nurfahada to make global change, but without access to an education, it couldn’t happen. Who knows how many smart young people are missing the opportunity to be the next global leaders simply because they can’t go to school.
What you can do:
President Obama and the first lady launched Let Girls Learn, a campaign that helps provide girls across the country with the resources they need to go to school, whether that be a safe way to get there, school supplies, or having their family’s basic family needs met so they don’t have to work to provide for them. To see how you can help spread awareness, raise money or volunteer, go to www.usaid.gov/letgirlslearn.