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Gist of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s remarks at Japan-U.S. joint event

(Asahi: March 20, 2015 – p. 8)


 When we talk about the crisis of girls’ education, we often focus on the economic barriers girls face – school fees or uniforms, or how they live miles from the nearest school and have no safe transportation, or how the school in their community doesn’t have bathroom facilities for girls so they just can’t attend.


 But we all know that the problem here isn’t just about infrastructure and resources. It’s also about attitudes and beliefs. It’s about whether fathers — and mothers — think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons. It’s about whether communities value girls simply for their bodies, for their household labor, their reproductive capacities, or whether they value girls for their minds as well. It’s about whether societies cling to laws and traditions that oppress women, or whether they view women as full citizens entitled to the same rights and freedoms as men.


 And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that these kinds of challenges aren’t just limited to the developing world.


 For example, while we have made tremendous strides in girls’ education in the United States and Japan, women in both our countries still struggle to balance the needs of their families with the demands of their careers. We still struggle with the outdated belief that a woman cannot be both an accomplished professional and a devoted mother; that she has to choose between the two.


 But the reality is that when we put limits like this on women’s lives, we stifle their potential, and, more importantly, we miss out on so much of what they have to offer our societies. And for me, that’s where this issue gets personal.


 I grew up in a working-class neighborhood, a place where hardly anyone went to university. Many people worked long hours for low salaries, struggled to pay their bills.


 When I got to school, I sometimes encountered teachers who assumed that a girl from a humble background like mine wouldn’t be a successful student. I was even told that I would never get accepted to the prestigious school like Princeton University, so I shouldn’t even apply. Like so many girls across the globe, I got the message that someone like me wasn’t supposed to have big dreams; that I should keep my head down, my voice quiet, and I should make myself just a little smaller to fit other people’s modest expectations.


 But I was lucky. I had parents who believed in me, who urged me to speak up and make myself heard in the world. So I held fast to my dreams. I worked hard in school. I went ahead and I applied to Princeton — and I got accepted. I went on to become a lawyer, a city government employee, a hospital executive. And most of all, I became a mother, which is by far the most important job I will ever have in my life.


 Continuing my career while raising my daughters wasn’t easy, but for me, this was the right decision. For me, being a mother made me a better professional, because coming home every night to my girls reminded me what I was working for. And there were two main reasons I was able to achieve this balance.


 First, I had the support from my husband and family who believed in me.


 And second, like so many other women, I was able to achieve both personal and professional goals because of my education. My education was truly the starting point for every opportunity I have had in my life.


 But I know that for every girl like me, there are so many others across the globe who are just as smart, just as capable, just as hungry to succeed, but they never have the chance to go to school.


 I mean, just think about what we would be missing here in Japan if women were not educated. Just imagine if Sadako Ogata was never able to attend school and become one of the greatest diplomats of our time.


 And what if the great violinist, Midori, never had the chance to discover her talent?


 And how about Chiaki Mukai? Without her education, she never could have become the first woman astronaut in Japan.


 But when we do educate girls, when we truly invest in their potential, there is no limit to the impact we can have. Girls who attend school have healthier families. They earn higher salaries. And sending more girls to school can boost a country’s entire economy. So we know that educating girls is the best investment we can make, not just in their future, but in the future of their families, their communities and their countries.


 It’s about creating a world where women shine. A world where every family, every community and every nation can benefit from the contributions of all of its citizens, men and women, boys and girls. And I cannot think of better partners in this work than Mrs. Abe and Prime Minister Abe, and the great country they serve.

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