First Lady Michelle Obama is the hostess with the mostess.
In support of her Let Girls Learn initiative, which aims to help girls around the world attend school and further their educations, FLOTUS hosted an afternoon event at Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Monday for the spouses of government leaders, currently in New York City for the United Nations’ annual general assembly.
The First Lady rounded up quite a team to welcome the dignitaries to the city: The event was emceed by Late Show host Stephen Colbert, and featured performances from the casts of the Broadway musicals Beautiful, Waitress, Wicked and The Color Purple – all of which feature strong females in the lead roles.
In between the performances, the audience, which was also filled with school children and Girl Scout troops, heard from fellow champions of girls’ education – Queen Rania of Jordan and Gertrude Mutharika, the First Lady of Malawi – as well as Noor Abu Ghazaleh of Jordan, Summyka Qadir of Pakistan and Halima Robert of Malawi, three young women who spoke about the difference education has made in their lives.
Mrs. Obama opened the event (after an introduction from Colbert and a standing ovation) with an appeal to the influential folks in the audience to help further the Let Girls Learn mission, asking them to talk to their spouses and directly to the citizens of their respective countries.
“As spouses of world leaders, so many of us here in this room have a platform that we can use to tell these stories and bring people together to take action for these girls,” she said. “Because people will pick up the phone when we call. They will come to a meeting when we ask. Cameras may even show up when we go to an event.”
Obama spoke of the impact education had on her own life, and how it “gave her the confidence” to pursue her ambitions: “For me, education was power.”
She cited Malala Yousafzai as an inspiration for the initiative, before reminding the audience of the fact that she has no official budget or authority to make laws – and that all the progress Let Girls Learn has made has come from the generosity of others (namely, donations from 80 companies and organizations, as well as other nations like Japan, the United Kingdom and Mexico).
Queen Rania also spoke about the importance of education for women, especially in her home region of the Middle East.
“I come from a region where we can’t take education for granted,” she said. “So many girls in my region don’t let conflict define their lives. They defy it. Out of the ashes of conflict, many of our brave girls are rising.”
She told the story of a woman in a refugee camp who worked to stop young girls from being married and taken out of school.
“When the power of education is within you, then everything is in your power,” she said.
Speaker Halima Robert of Malawi, 17, is living proof of that message: She was forced into an arranged marriage at 15, but through the help of USAID, was able to get out of the marriage and return to school. Now, she aspires to be her nation’s education minister.
“I now want to succeed more than ever,” she said.
And though her days in office are numbered, Obama insisted that she’s hardly done working with Let Girls Learn and furthering the cause.
“More than 62 million girls around the world are counting on us to be their voice,” she said. “And I intend to keep speaking out on their behalf not just for the rest of my time as first lady, but for the rest of my life. I hope that you all will join me.”