Michelle Obama: Leadership Is About Empowering Both Men & Women

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Following on from President Obama’s passionate speech at the Young African Leaders Initiative this week about empowering women and getting rid of traditions such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, first lady Michelle Obama also took her turn to speak on the topic at the event, now called the Mandela Washington Fellowship after the late South African president Nelson Mandela.

She spoke about girls education and financial stability being only part of the solution to empowering African nations.

“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens,” she said.

Michelle spoke about the notion of empowerment being a topic that involves both genders.

“Leadership is about creating new traditions that honor the dignity and humanity of every individual. Leadership is about empowering all of our people— men, women, boys and girls,” she said. “When we commit to that kind of leadership across the globe, that is when we truly start making progress on girls’ education.”

In a time when we are hearing about terrorists around the world who attack schools and try to demolish and semblance of a western education, it is more crucial than ever that African leaders are equipped with the right information and understand why educating girls is beneficial on a national level in the long run.

While she was quick to acknowledge the great progress being made in African nations where women are opening businesses, building schools and hospitals, traditions such as FGM are at an all time high. Egypt alone reports a 91% rate of female genital mutilation practices on married women aged 15-49.

Michelle Obama said these “are not legitimate cultural practices,” but “serious human rights violations.”

The recent Girl Summit held in London was a great forum for many different countries to come together and take a collective stand against this injustice. Countries like the UK and Ethiopia now have laws in place to make FGM and child marriage illegal.

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The first lady held a round-table discussion with the African leaders to talk about girls education, saying that 30 million of the girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa were not attending school, and that too many of them were forced into marriage before even hitting puberty.

“I don’t think it’s really productive to talk about issues like girls’ education unless we’re willing to have a much bigger, bolder conversation about how women are viewed and treated in the world today. And we need to be having this conversation on every continent and in every country on this planet. And that’s what I want to do today with all of you, because so many of you are already leading the charge for progress in Africa.”

The case for women’s education couldn’t be more clear, than when you look at a country like Rwanda. After coming out of a horrific genocide in the early 1990s, it was the women who were mostly responsible for building up the nation from scratch, as they were the ones left behind. Today, although it is still a third world country, their federal government boasts 64% females holding seats. In comparison, the United States only has 18%.

In a specific address to men, Michelle talks about the importance of a man’s role in empowering the women in their families and communities, saying it was the influence of her own father, brother, uncle and grandfather who set the bar high and allowed her to eventually marry a man who also wanted to treat women as equals.

She urged the African men in attendance how important it is for them to do the same.

“Any man who uses his strength to oppress women is a coward, and he is holding back the progress of his family and his country.”

Progress is something that can only truly happen when all citizens are part of a conversation about moving a country forward. Ignoring women at top level and not considering them equal is like ignoring half the population. When men and women work alongside each other as equals, it becomes a platform for dynamic, diverse and strengthened policies, which the President and First Lady are hoping will happen throughout Africa.

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Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article833166.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article833166.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article833166.html#storylink=cpy

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