US First Lady Michelle Obama took a break this week from her campaign to rid the nation’s schools of cupcakes to urge American girls to go to college. She acknowledged the poor state of many American schools, but wrote that’s not an excuse for any young person to drop out.
Following is the letter she wrote in full:
Did you know that right now, 62 million girls around the world are not in school, and in some countries, fewer than ten per cent of girls complete high school (as compared to 85 per cent in the US)?
Did you know that when girls are educated, they go on to earn higher wages, get married later, and have healthier children who are more likely to attend school themselves?
So you might be wondering: why on earth are so many girls worldwide not in school?
There are many answers to this question. Sometimes, families simply can’t afford to send their daughters to school (some countries don’t have free public education and families have to pay school fees); or girls live in rural areas, far from schools, and have no means of transportation; or girls can’t afford to buy sanitary pads, so they’re unable to attend school during their periods, and they wind up falling behind and dropping out.
But often, the problem isn’t just about resources, it’s also about attitudes and beliefs.
In some places, girls are viewed as less worthy of an education than boys, so when a family has limited funds, they’ll educate their sons instead of their daughters. In some parts of the world, girls are forced to get married young—sometimes before they even reach puberty—to men who might be three or four times their age, and instead of attending school, they wind up having children at a young age.
And often, even when girls do have the chance to attend school, they do so at great risk. For example, in some countries, there are terrorist organisations who view educated girls as a serious threat and do everything in their power to keep girls from going to school.
We saw this in Pakistan when Taliban terrorists boarded a school bus and shot a 15-year-old girl named Malala Yousafzai because she had spoken out for girls’ education.
We saw it in Nigeria when men from a terrorist organisation called Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night.
These girls were well aware of the risks they were taking—they had been receiving threats for months—but they insisted on showing up for school because they were determined to pursue their dreams and make their families and communities proud.
Knowing the heartbreaking challenges so many girls in the world are facing, think about all the girls you know who don’t take their education seriously—girls who skip class, or don’t do their homework, or even drop out because they don’t see the point of school.
To any girl—or any young person—who might be thinking this way, I have a simple message: you can do better—for yourself, your family and your country.
I know that your school might not be as good as it should be, or you might be facing challenges in your family that make it hard for you to focus in class. But if girls across the globe can walk hours each day from their villages to attend school, or work two or three jobs to pay their school fees, or even risk their lives to attend school, then I know you can overcome any obstacles you face.
Maybe that means talking to a teacher or a counsellor to get some help, or committing yourself to concrete goals each week, like showing up on time for class and getting your homework done each night.
Whatever you do, I urge you to take your education seriously, because no matter what you want to do with your life, I guarantee that you will need a high school diploma and some higher education, like a two-year or four-year college degree or a professional certificate.
And as you get yourself on track for higher education, I hope you’ll work to give girls around the world opportunities to attend school, too.
Get involved with an organisation that focuses on girls’ education; form a club at your school to raise money and awareness; use social media to educate everyone you know about this issue.
So many girls around the world would give anything to get the kind of education that so many girls take for granted in the US. And I hope you will show just a fraction of their courage and determination in getting your own education and helping them get theirs.