Michelle Obama’s visit to London last month caused a stir on both sides of the Atlantic. On a visit to Mulberry High School for Girls in East London, the First Lady drew attention to a part of society which is in ever great need of help.
The so-called ‘hugger in chief’ gave an emotional speech to the young students at a school where 73% qualify for free school meals yet 82% will go on to University. At a school which sets incredibly high standards for the pupils, despite their difficult backgrounds, Michelle spoke of her own impoverished upbringing on the South Side of Chicago. She implored the audience to fulfill their potential, to strive for and ask for the best society has to offer.
The high profile visit was part of the First Lady’s ‘Let Girls Learn’ – the White House Initiative supported by numerous charities such as CHARGE (Collaborative for Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Girl’s Education), Girl Scouts USA and the UN Foundation Girl Up – which also saw her travelling to Cambodia and Japan promoting the importance of female education and empowerment. Let Girls Learn is just the latest in an increasing number of campaigns aimed at women and girls – a very encouraging trend, and one that more women themselves should get behind.
Girl Be Heard, an international charity that promotes women in the arts, recently moved in to the building I work in. The organisation provides performance spaces as well as materials and venues to be creative, giving young girls at risk a place to go, a purpose to their day and to their lives.
The Nike Girl Effect campaign draws attention to adolescent girls in developing countries in particular. Girls aged between 11 and 15 in those countries regularly slip between the gap in terms of aid, being too old to benefit as children but not old enough to qualify as women. The risks at this incredibly vulnerable and important time in any girl’s life are intensified even more in societies where girls are often excluded from education. A UNICEF report in 2012 found that worldwide 31 million girls at primary level and 32 million of secondary school age were excluded from education. The Girl Effect campaign video explains that without education a girl will find it harder to find work which increases the chance of her marrying young. She is less likely to use contraception and will have children younger and contract a venereal disease. Through no fault of her own she may be ignorant of the appropriate nutrition or medical care for herself or for her family. Too Young to Wed is a charity aimed specifically at this occurrence.
Back at home, lot of you will have seen Sport for England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, offering support for women in sport and encouraging women to get fit, another great shout for girl power at home. Support is obviously what’s needed, in particular in light of the 2015 Budget which saw young people again facing more cuts, excluded from benefits such as the national living wage, plus huge cuts to housing benefits for young people aged 18 to 21. As Sali Hughes explained drawing on her own experiences of near homelessness, teenage women who are unfortunate enough not to have a family or money to support them are amongst societies most vulnerable. If the government will not take responsibility for them, it will fall to initiatives and charities to provide support, both financial and emotional.
Seeing women support each other like this is clearly really important, and adding a voice like Mrs Obama’s to the cause is another step in the right direction. She also reminds us that when you do succeed to not forget those who are still struggling. The reassurance that it is possible to overcome adversity and that someone has your corner is in my opinion the true definition of Girl Power.