First Ladies for Global Issues

U.S. presidents are often put in the spotlight, but what many people overlook is the work of America’s First Ladies. This list offers insight into the most influential First Ladies for global issues and their efforts to address these issues.

Top 8 Most Influential First Ladies for Global Issues

  1. Eleanor Roosevelt- Weeks after Franklin Roosevelt assumed his role as president, Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany. Hitler’s reign spurred a European refugee crisis. Eleanor Roosevelt used her platform as First Lady to garner U.S. support for refugees. To that end, she came out as a supporter of the Wagner-Rogers bill. This bill would allow the entry of 20,000 German children into the U.S. The Wagner-Roger bill ended up dying in committee, but the First Lady didn’t stop there. Eleanor Roosevelt proceeded to establish the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children. USCOM was able to bring refugee children from France safely into the U.S.
  2. Patricia Nixon- This First Lady was known for her avid support of volunteerism and charitable causes. During her time in the White House, she made numerous journeys abroad. The first solo trip Patricia Nixon took was to Peru to provide relief supplies to earthquake victims. She later traveled as her husband’s Personal Representative to Africa and South America.
  3. Rosalynn Carter- Rosalynn Carter embarked on perhaps one of the most ambitious international missions taken by a First Lady. In 1977, she visited Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Jamaica and assumed the position of the President’s representative. She took part in meetings to discuss policy issues such as drug trafficking, arms reduction and human rights. She continued her work in 1979 when she learned of the Cambodian refugee crisis. After seeing the conditions of the crisis for herself, she urged the U.N. to get involved in the issue. As a result of her urging, the National Cambodian Crisis Committee was established.
  4. Nancy Reagan- This First Lady is well known for her efforts to address the global drug epidemic. In 1985, Nancy Reagan held a First Ladies Conference on Drug Abuse to discuss solutions to drug abuse with other first ladies from across the globe. The following year, Reagan became the first First Lady to meet with the U.N. General Assembly where she highlighted the importance of attacking the world’s growing drug epidemic.
  5. Hillary Clinton- Hillary Clinton formed an impressive network with female global leaders across the world. She helped establish Vital Voices, an initiative that encouraged the incorporation of women in politics. She spoke out about gender equality at home and abroad. Clinton was one of the only political figures to draw attention to the violent treatment of Afghan women by the Taliban regime.
  6. Laura Bush- As First Lady, Laura Bush allocated much of her time towards improving global education and health. In 2005, she made the journey to Afghanistan to promote teacher-training institutions for women. Towards the end of her husband’s presidency, Bush continued traveling the world to promote the importance of global health. In 2007, she traveled to the Middle East to raise awareness for women’s health and breast cancer.
  7. Michelle Obama- In 2015, Michelle Obama launched the Let Girls Learn program. This program focuses on getting girls worldwide into school and making sure they remain in school. Let Girls Learn works with USAID, the State Department and the Peace Corps to carry out its mission. In 2016, Obama traveled to greet recipients of the benefits of the Let Girls Learn program in Liberia and Morocco.
  8. Melania Trump- Melania Trump has shown that she intends on following in the steps of her predecessors. She has targeted disease, trafficking and hunger as some of her main issues. The First Lady urged the U.N. to do more to aid these causes. She most recently embarked on a trip to Kenya, Egypt and Ghana. The First Lady was touched by the experience, and according to President Trump, there are intentions of helping these regions in the future.

– Gabriella Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr

77. International Day of the Girl: Focusing on EducationIn 2011, the U.N. designated October 11 to be International Day of the Girl, which is a day dedicated to recognizing the achievements of girls around the world in order to empower girls to fight against gender inequality.

Specifically, girls’ education is a large issue in developing countries because a large number of girls do not have access to education in areas of  low socioeconomic status. According to the Malala Fund, more than 130 million girls around the world have not received a proper education. If girls do not have access to education, then it is seemingly impossible for them to achieve career opportunities and increased health outcomes. Furthermore, it is not extremely difficult to help girls’ education around the world.

There are many organizations that are dedicated to helping girls in developing countries access the sort of education that is vital in order to take the first steps towards gender equality. Here is a list of just a few organizations that may be used in order to help girls’ education around the world.

1. Save the Children

Save the Children is an organization dedicated to helping disadvantaged children around the world overcome many difficult obstacles, and now, Save the Children has launched the #ShesWorthMore campaign. Save the Children states, “discrimination against girls starts at birth,” which is an important concept to comprehend in order to truly help girls’ education. Gender roles affect girls throughout their entire lives, and gender often determines whether or not one has access to education; for example, according to Save the Children, girls are approximately three times more likely than boys to not have access to education. The #ShesWorthMore campaign allows people to donate, start a fundraiser or sponsor a child.

2. Malala Fund
The Malala Fund is another example of an exceptional organization that is dedicated to advancing girls’ education around the world. This organization is unique because it was founded in the name of Malala Yousafzai. Malala is a young Pakistani woman who was attacked while she was famously defending girls’ education against the Taliban. Malala’s story has influenced many organizations to take action in order to increase access to education for girls in areas plagued by war and conflict. The Malala Fund encourages people to donate or start their own fundraiser to raise money for this cause.

3. Let Girls Learn
In 2015, former First Lady of the U.S., Michelle Obama, created Let Girls Learn – a U.S. government agency that helps girls around the world obtain access to proper education. The Let Girls Learn initiative further addresses the countless barriers that block the path for girls to obtain education in developing countries such as child marriage, violence, war and conflict. Volunteers with the Peace Corps can work on various projects in developing countries which allow girls to access proper education. Furthermore, people may donate to the Let Girls Learn initiative and raise awareness on various social media platforms using the hashtag #LetGirlsLearn.

All in all, there are many organizations that are available for people to donate to, fundraise for or volunteer with. Save the Children, the Malala Fund, and Let Girls Learn are just a few organizations that people may support on International Day of the Girl. However, girls’ education deserves prolonged support in order to close disparity gaps in education and gender equality around the world.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Malala Yousafzai is a brave Pakistani advocate for young women’s education and the youngest ever Nobel laureate. An attempt was made on her life when she was shot in the head by militants, and she has faced many other obstacles. Yousafzai is one among hundreds of advocates around the world fighting for women’s education. More than 63 million girls are still not enrolled in school, and fewer than 10 percent of teenage girls finish secondary school. Here are five more outstanding advocates for women’s education.

  1. Neelam Ibrar Chattan
    Chattan has advocated for peace for young women in Pakistan since she was a teenager. She grew up in the same town as Yousafzai. While Yousafzai was being attacked, and the Taliban were taking over Pakistan, Chattan launched a campaign called Peace for a New Generation, promoting education and extracurricular activities for girls and boys. Even though she and her family face various threats, she remains fearless in helping children and young adults get the education they need.
  2. Michelle Obama
    The former First Lady, along with her husband, former President Barack Obama, launched the Let Girls Learn organization in March 2015. The organization works with communities and leaders of third-world countries to promote girls’ education. She has also visited Africa and raised $27 million in funding for young women’s education in Liberia. Michelle Obama hopes that more people will continue fighting for young women’s education.
  3. Graca Machel
    Machel has fought not only for young women’s education, but also against childhood marriage. She acknowledged that women and children “pay the highest prices” from war in Nigeria. Her hard work has led to the Graca Machel Trust.
  4. Angelique Kidjo
    A Grammy-nominated West African singer and songwriter, Kidjo is also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and the founder of the Batonga Foundation. She uses her talents as a singer and her passion for young women’s education to effect important change. She continues to work with the Batonga Foundation, supporting secondary and higher education for girls in Africa by improving school infrastructure, increasing enrollment, granting scholarships, providing financial support for families, and spreading community awareness.
  5. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
    As the first female president in an African country, Liberian President Sirleaf has been a huge supporter of general women’s rights, including women’s right to vote and women’s right to education. She has used her power to expand the quality of education in preschool and primary education by joining the Global Partnership for Education in 2007. Despite dealing with the Ebola crisis in 2015, she worked hard to reopen schools and provide quality education for all students.

In the face of widespread and systemic adversity, millions of women around the world do not have education as a birthright. These five advocates of women’s education are advancing an agenda of equality that will empower and uplift communities forever.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr

Morocco is known for being one of the most progressive states in the Middle East and North because of its advancements made for women. Despite these advancements, women’s education in Morocco still lags behind. In 1999, King Mohammed VI ascended the throne after the death of his late father. Since then, his reign has been touted as “the education decade,” and the rise of literacy for the women of Morocco could be partly credited to the King. Here are five facts about women’s education in Morocco.

  1. Literacy rates are low but are still increasing. For a long time, the literacy rates for women in Morocco have been low. King Mohammed’s implementation of more progressive laws has helped to increase these literacy rates. For example, one gave rights for women to be autonomous in the Family Code. Another removed all restrictions from the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). According to the World Bank, literacy rates jumped from 27% in 1999 to about 63% in 2016. Unfortunately, the number of girls pursuing high school and university are still low. Just 10% of girls attend university, but the numbers are growing due to the construction of new schools and girls’ dormitories at existing schools. This makes it easier to attend when the closest school is miles away from home and unreachable by public transportation.
  2. There is a big gap between the urban and rural areas of Morocco. Almost 90% of women in rural areas are illiterate. These numbers are largely due to the cultural norms in rural areas, where traditional gender roles are still prevalent. People still believe the proper place for a woman is at home. This is why the number of girls attending schools in rural areas is only 26%, while for boys it is 79%. Unfortunately for girls in rural areas, access to schools is far from easy. Most schools in rural areas are miles away from homes. The schools become inaccessible because of the poor infrastructure and dirt roads not always being reliable.
  3. The Language Barrier: Berber vs. Arabic. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language in the country, but Berber is the language spoken in rural areas. In many Berber-speaking areas, girls stay at home because school is taught in Arabic. The teachers provided by the state almost never know how to speak Berber. This takes away the chance for these girls to learn.
  4. Education for mothers on the rise. On a positive note, parents of children are also taking advantage of opportunities to learn when they can. The state started a program called Mahou Al Omiya (Erasing Illiteracy), which provides night classes in local schools. Although the program is open to both men and women, mothers of school-aged children have the highest attendance rate. This gives mothers the opportunity to complete the schooling they never had the chance to finish. This opportunity helps the mothers to form relationships with the teachers of their children and gives them the ability to assist their children with their own school work.
  5. Foreign aid is a necessity. Foreign aid has become essential to the advancement of women’s education in Morocco. Aid like the United States Millennium Challenge project has provided $100 million towards the construction of more schools in Morocco. The work of NGOs has also become essential. The campaign Let Girls Learn sends Peace Corps volunteers to assist local leaders to help advance girls’ education and empowerment.

While there remains a long way to go, the progress for women’s education in Morroco over the last 20 years has been remarkable. With continued local and international support, opportunities for young and old will continue to drive the nation toward a lasting prosperity.

Maria S. Rodriguez

Photo: Flickr

Let Girls Learn Initiative Announces $5 Million in New Commitments
Equality. To some, it is merely a word, and to others, an idea. However, to the millions of girls throughout the world who are prevented simply based on their gender from receiving equal education, it is a movement.

In response to this, many associations, organizations and programs are created to end this unnecessary fight against adolescent girls and their right to attaining a quality education. As each contributes in its own corner of the world, there is one that is determined to assist the entire globe.

On the International Day of the Girl, the U.S. government-led initiative known as Let Girls Learn announced an astounding investment of more than $5 million in new private sector commitments.

Assembled by both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, the program strives to eliminate the vast barriers and obstacles facing young girls around the world from attaining equal and quality education.

Established in March 2015, Let Girls Learn hopes to accelerate the speed at which all girls obtain a quality education. Since its creation, the program has provided more than $1 billion dollars worth of new and ongoing programming in more than 50 countries.

The platform works directly with a multitude of government departments, including the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to effectively engage civil society and governments around the world act.

With the assistance of the Peace Corps, volunteers are able to identify obstructions limiting adolescent girls from attending schools, while USAID is focused on increasing access to quality education by empowering girls.

Additional programs, companies and organizations contributing to the fight for equal and quality education for girls everywhere include The World Bank, Girl Starter, Let Girls Lead and more.

Moving forward, Let Girls Learn plans on continuing its efforts until the last girl presently prevented from obtaining equal and quality education is put into school.

Jordan J. Phelan

Photo: Flickr

ndia's Education
India’s education pipeline is clogged all the way through. International care and attention needs to occur to ramp up this dismal state and increase developmental efforts. Thankfully, USAID is already on this track and created the life-changing program of Let Girls Learn.

Let Girls Learn

USAID’s recent Let Girls Learn initiative claimed that “if India enrolled one percent more girls in secondary school, their GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.” While this may be true, observers of U.S. development assistance note that only $3.5 million was allocated to Indian primary and secondary schools in 2015.

Researcher Jandhyala Tilak, from the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), cites government neglect of the secondary and higher education sectors as one of India’s major problems. She explains that while primary education is indeed crucial for moving citizens above the poverty line, “the danger of their falling below poverty line at any time could be high.”

Private vs Public Sector

Moreover, gains in India’s education pipeline come with a tainted reputation. As more and more private firms invest in this sector, questions arise concerning the quality and payoff of programs. Geetha Nambissan, from the Max Weber Foundation, reveals that the rise of “budget private schools” (BPS) offering scalable, pay-as-you-go learning has negatively affected teacher training.

In particular, she outlines the advent of para-skilling, which standardizes and streamlines lesson planning so that instructors are less costly to firms (earning lower wages) while still providing rudimentary support.

Nambissan believes this practice will hurt Indian education in the long term, since teaching is degraded from a profession to semi- or unskilled labor. “In some low-cost schools, teachers are so underqualified that they cannot speak English, let alone teach in English,” she says.

Nambissan’s views are echoed by those of Pramath Raj Sinha, Dean of the Indian School of Business, the very first Indian institution to earn a spot among The Financial Times’ top 20 MBA programs. He observes that too many investments have been made by business people with a product delivery approach.

“They saw themselves as providing a service,” Sinha says, “and the service was providing somebody a degree that could get them a job.” The result was “a mushrooming of many mediocre private universities” with “little incentive . . . to improve. That will have to change.”

And for that to change, the public and private sectors will have to establish mutually beneficial partnerships. In order to funnel students through to quality universities, India’s education pipeline must maintain teaching quality and support.

The Importance of Open-mindedness

In return, the Indian government might need to cede some ground: it currently imposes a $5 million guarantee from foreign educational firms, as well as a prohibition on the extraction of surplus profits.

Therefore, there is a definite possibility of a system with in-kind benefits between public entities such as USAID and private firms who would invest in the education sector.

Surplus profits could be used to invest in new infrastructure or housing projects, thereby keeping the benefits of human capital with the Indian people. Such a development would serve a dual purpose: boosting the Indian economy and bettering India’s education pipeline.

Alfredo Cumerma

Photo: Flickr

Empowering Young GirlsGlobally, 62 million girls are not enrolled in school, half of whom are adolescents. In addition, girls with access to “a basic education are three times less likely to contract HIV.” Those in the fight against global poverty are willing to invest in education for empowering young girls because of the incredible benefits it reaps.

On March 15, 2016, the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls was launched by Secretary Kerry. According to the U.S. Department of State Official Blog, “Investing in girls’ education is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.”

In September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by 193 nations. They seek to achieve these goals by 2030. The investment in girls’ education supports the targets of quality education, gender equality, suitable work opportunities and good health.

The DREAMS Innovation Challenge is an organization that is offering $85 million for innovative approaches to reduce HIV infections in young girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Part of achieving an AIDS-free generation is empowering young girls through education. DREAMS has partnered with PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) to address the social isolation, economic disadvantage, discriminatory cultural norms, orphanhood and gender-based bias that prevents adolescent girls from attending or remaining in school.

Similarly, Let Girls Learn, a United States initiative to ensure girls receive an education, recognizes that keeping girls in school can transform their families, communities and countries. Societies with educated women are healthier and stronger because more of the population has the skills, expertise and self-assurance to lift themselves out of poverty.

Providing adequate resources and opportunities for empowering young girls to pursue their dreams facilitates global development, security and prosperity. The gender and age of children should not be seen as setbacks. Rather, they are key factors in a society’s ability to grow socially and economically.

As stated in the Executive Summary of the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, “While adolescence is a time of great vulnerability for girls, it is also an ideal point to leverage development and diplomacy efforts. It is an opportunity to disrupt poverty from becoming a permanent condition that is passed from one generation to the next.”

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Flickr

supporting education for girls in developing countriesMichelle Obama recently spoke on the importance of education for girls in developing countries at the 2015 World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar.

According to EFA Global Monitoring Report, there are 66 million girls out of school globally. There are 33 million fewer girls than boys in primary school.

Michelle Obama is traveling through the Middle East discussing the importance of education for girls in developing countries in order to promote “Let Girls Learn,” her girls’ education initiative. She encouraged men in developing countries to support the cause of educating girls in order to improve their societies.


Health Benefits of Supporting Education for Girls in Developing Countries


Education is one of the most significant ways that women can empower themselves, and educating women provides many benefits to developing countries.

Girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children. Women who are educated marry later and, therefore, have fewer children. Multiple studies show that an extra year of schooling for girls reduces fertility rate by five to 10 percent.

The children of an educated woman are more likely to survive. In addition, a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five.

Educated women are better at understanding and managing health issues, which reduces infant and maternal mortality.


Economic Benefits of Supporting Education for Girls in Developing Countries


Educating women also benefits the economy. According to chief Japan strategist and co-head of Asia Economics, “educated women contribute to the quality, size and productivity of the workforce. They can get better paying jobs, allowing them to provide daily necessities, health care and education to support their families.”

A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult.

Bloomberg Business estimates a “growth premium” that would raise gross domestic product growth by 0.2 percent per year for countries such as Vietnam, Nigeria and Pakistan that put greater investments in female education. Narrowing the gender gap could raise income per capita 20 percent higher than what is projected by 2030.

According to The World Bank, if India enrolled one percent more girls in secondary school, its gross domestic product would rise by $5.5 billion.

Educating girls provides many significant benefits to developing countries and can help lift areas out of poverty. Education for girls will continue to improve conditions in developing countries across the globe.

Jordan Connell

Sources: Bloomberg Business, CNN, Girl Rising, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Research done by CARE found that girls in 26 countries are more likely to be forced into marriage before the age of 18 than to enroll in secondary school. The report Vows of Poverty was released on Oct. 11, 2015, the same day as International Day of the Girl.

The two stunning figures presented in the report were: 39,000 girls around the world are forced to marry each day, and 62 million girls are currently not in school, with half of them being adolescents.

The tradition of child marriage is what continues the cycle of poverty in developing countries. “Every time a girl under 18 is forced into marriage or prevented from attending school, it’s a missed opportunity to improve that girl’s life and strike at the roots of poverty,” said CARE Australia Chief Executive Dr. Julia Newton-Howes.

The U.S. Department of State initiated an Adolescent Girl Strategy in cooperation with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. The strategy focuses on enhancing American foreign policy to end child marriage.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama encourage efforts to educate adolescent girls through the Let Girls Learn initiative, which focuses on “community-led solutions that reduce barriers between adolescent girls and their education, including the elimination of child marriage.”

On a national level, governments are reinforcing laws that prevent child marriage. The 2014 Girl Summit resulted in 43 nations signing commitments to end the practice of child marriage. Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Mali, Tanzania, Yemen and Zambia have recently initiated campaigns and legal reforms to end child marriage.

In the Amhara region of Ethiopia, communities have stopped at least 180 child marriages since 2013 thanks to the TESFA program. CARE partnered with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the Nike Foundation to break the cycle of poverty. The program focused on improving girls’ education, health, business and financial literacy.

In Bangladesh, the local women’s empowerment group, EKATA, works to end the tradition of child marriage by discussing with parents the adverse effects of the practice and urging them not to force their daughters into early marriage.

Seeing as poverty promotes child marriage practices, in South Sudan cash incentives are given to parents who enroll or keep their daughters in school. In Senegal, community and religious leaders publicly criticize the practice of child marriage.

“We focus on women and girls because we know that empowering women is the key to ending poverty,” stated Howes.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: Vows of Poverty Report, The Hill, Leadersinheels
Photo: Wikimedia

At a luncheon on June 29, Michelle Obama announced the introduction of an international global education campaign called “Let Girls Learn,” focuses on educating adolescent girls worldwide.

To begin her speech, Obama said that about 31 million young girls around the world are not in school. Many of these girls lead difficult lives because of the lack of sufficient education in their area. Girls who are not educated are more susceptible to HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. They are less likely to build successful lives for themselves without proper education.

Bendu Fafana, a young girl from Bong Country, Liberia, said that attending school was challenging for her because her father was not present in her life and her mother had passed away.

“I dropped from school because I was not getting any support,” Fafana said.

In a video presented by the White House, President Barack Obama said that there are studies that prove that educated girls are much less likely to get married early. Not only will their future children be healthier, but the family will have a better chance at a job that creates sufficient income for the children. This creates a chain of healthy living, which can generate better-functioning societies that lead to greater opportunities for economic growth for both developing and developed countries.

Michelle Obama said that “Let Girls Learn” will provide volunteers from groups like the U.S. Peace Corps to work with local leaders to bring education to girls like Fafana. She also said that “Let Girls Learn” is not only a philanthropic aspiration, but is also vital for foreign policy and international development.

Not only will this endeavor help the U.S. economically, but this opportunity can also help produce worldwide equality. Obama said that economic obstacles are not the only things that inhibit girls from receiving schooling: much of the problem is about views and cultures.

“It’s about whether societies cling to laws and traditions that oppress women,” she said.

“Let Girls Learn” will fund a program in North Africa and the Middle East that will encourage the native girls to learn about social issues in their communities and societies. The campaign will also provide a space that will encourage girls to reflect upon human rights and democracy. In addition, the initiative will contribute to organizations against gender-based violence.

With help from USAID, the U.S. Department of State, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. Peace Corps, “Let Girls Learn” will increase efforts to produce tactical partnerships and political goals that will help adolescent girls succeed.

Alexa Ofori, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia, gave her thoughts about one of the goals of “Let Girls Learn.”

“Girl empowerment is for a girl to be able to have the self-esteem and, really, the confidence to be able to feel like they can do anything they put their minds to,” she said.

This education plan includes these programs and at least 24 others that will provide information about proper health and nutrition, prevent child, early and forced marriage, ensure safety for young children and, of course, deliver education to areas without.

Learn more about Let Girls Learn.

Fallon Lineberger

Sources: My San Antonio, White House 1, White House 2
Photo: Share America