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To Achieve Equality, First Lady Wants to ‘Shake Things Up’
July 31, 2014

Africa’s future lies with women who run businesses, girls who attend university and “leaders like you,” U.S. first lady Michelle Obama told young Africans attending the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Summit in Washington.

“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 — to fulfill every last bit of their God-given potential,” she said to the gathering of Africa’s future leaders.

“When we commit to that kind of leadership across the globe, that is when we truly start making progress on girls’ education. Because that’s when families in small villages around the world will demand equal opportunities for their daughters. … That’s when countries will willingly and generously invest in sending their girls to school,” she stated.

The first lady noted that girls who are educated earn higher wages, are more likely to stand up to discrimination and abuse, and have healthier children who are more likely to attend school themselves.

She recalled that while neither of her parents had gone to university, “they had the courage and foresight to push me to get the best education I could.”

“That’s what should drive us all — the hope of raising the next generation to be stronger, smarter and bolder than our generation. … So many of you are already doing that.”

Michelle Obama hugging young African (AP Images)
Photo credit: AP Images

The first lady called on the men at the summit and others in the YALI Network to tell all the men they know “that a truly strong, powerful man isn’t threatened by a strong, powerful woman. Instead, he is challenged by her, he is inspired by her, he is pleased to relate to her as an equal.” She implored them “to keep modeling that behavior yourselves by promoting women in your companies, passing laws to empower women in your countries, and holding the same ambitious dreams for your daughters as you do for your sons.”

She called on women at the summit and in YALI — some of whom may have disappointed their families by postponing marriage in order to get an education — to help others to do the same.

Obama told the group that when they face obstacles and resistance in their work goals to remember the words of the man for whom their fellowship is now named — the late South African leader Nelson Mandela:

“It always seems impossible until it is done.”