KUALA LUMPUR: “Truth and right are not just going to come from the mind of a male. If we are underinvesting in half of the planet’s population, I guarantee you that we are missing some right answers.”
Former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, said this when she took the stage with Hollywood actress Julia Roberts on the third day of the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific conference here to reflect on their recent trip to Vietnam with the Girls Opportunity Alliance.
The Girls Opportunity Alliance is an initiative under the Obama Foundation that focuses on funding grassroots organisations, such as Room to Read and Rock-Paper-Scissors Children’s Fund, that ensure young girls in the world get equal access to education.
Room to Read is a programme that transforms the lives of children in low-income communities by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. The Rock-Paper-Scissors Children’s Fund provides learning opportunities for young students through its art and music programmes.
One of the recent projects by the Rock-Paper-Scissors Children’s Fund was giving bicycles to girls who live in rural and poor villages in Vietnam to help them get to school. Many of them walk one or more hours one way to school and even became targets of human trafficking.
With Girls Opportunity Alliance’s tagline “The future of our world is only as bright as our girls”, Michelle’s resounding advocacy for global girls’ education was triggered by the fact that 98 million girls worldwide are not getting the education that they deserve, partly due to poverty and their parents’ concern for their safety.
“We are not going to move forward if half of the population are left out of the conversation,” she said in the plenary session, which was moderated by former Miss Malaysia and television host Deborah Henry.
Michelle said self-advocacy and self-confidence should be instilled in young children’s minds early on and that the young leaders in Asia-Pacific should be that light in the lives of these kids.
“My parents were not wealthy, not well connected, and they did not go to college themselves; but they gave me a sense of belief that my voice and what came from my mouth were clever and they were interested in it.
“Intellect knows no gender, possibility does not know race, and it does not know religion,” said Michelle, who was a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School.
The five-day programme, organised by the Obama Foundation, brought together 200 rising leaders from 33 nations and territories across the region.