By Yeabsira Bogale – Rise Up Youth Champion
“The future of our world is only as bright as our girls”– Michelle Obama
This statement was echoed by all of us who were part of the launch of the Global Girls Alliance with Mrs. Obama on the International Day of the Girl. The Obama Foundation is working in partnership with Rise Up to ensure that adolescent girls worldwide can finish school and achieve their full potential. The Global Girls Alliance is bringing a whole new momentum to this critical issue, providing a powerful platform where young leaders from all over the world can unite and get the support they need to make this vision a reality.
The day before Michelle Obama announced the launch of the Global Girls Alliance live on the Today Show, she held a small group discussion with a number of girls from all corners of the globe who have been championing the empowerment of women and girls. Rise Up gave me the opportunity to be part of that discussion and directly share my experiences. Mrs. Obama listened to all of our stories and shared with us her own, as well as her hopes for what the alliance will be able to achieve.
To start us off, Mrs. Obama simply asked: “What is your story and why are you inspired to become part of this movement?” And one by one, we spoke about our backgrounds, what education meant for us when we were growing up, and why we believe we need to unite together behind this cause. For me, education was, and still is a value that is very important to my family. Before I could really understand what it would mean for my future, I was fortunate enough to have parents and siblings who set the right example. I told Mrs. Obama and the young leaders about how especially grateful I am to my mom, because she put everything she could into making sure that I succeeded in my education. This is something I really grew to appreciate as I learned its true significance.
Once I left the comfort of home and ventured into the real world, I began to critically look at my environment and think past my own experiences. Although we still had to overcome our own set of challenges, I realized the determination that my family had in prioritizing education was not the standard. In fact, for many girls what should be a fundamental right to education is a privilege. Adolescent girls face not just economic barriers, but a lot of socio-cultural and systemic barriers that are interrelated and which constitute a structural alienation—resulting in 98 million adolescent girls currently out of school. And this is despite the strong evidence that if we educated our girls as well as our boys, we would have the best shot at reducing poverty, fighting climate change, and achieving improved health outcomes. We all hold responsibility for making sure that every girl can fight to realize, as Mrs. Obama put it, her promise.
Through my experience as a Rise Up Youth Champion, one of the most important lessons I learned is how to adapt and apply strategies that have been proven to work in order to successfully tackle large scale problems, including establishing effective partnerships and fostering mutual accountability to each other’s objectives. With Rise Up’s support I used “gamification” to promote healthy sexual and reproductive health choices among adolescents and youth in Ethiopia. It is crucial to have a movement that connects us to the network of resources and support we need. Girls’ education is a fundamental issue which can help improve outcomes and serve as an important vehicle to unite key actors to improve the economy as a whole. And who better to spearhead such a movement than Michelle Obama, a symbol of strength and resilience to the many girls around the world who aspire to become as strong a leader as she is? I would again like to thank her for the inspiration and for keeping her promise, and bringing us all together through the Global Girls Alliance.
Rise Up partnered with the Obama Foundation to develop the Global Girls Alliance, which builds upon the work of Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn, an initiative that Rise Up became part of in 2016.
Click here to watch Yeabsira with Michelle Obama and other girls speak about the importance of girls’ education in their own communities.