U.S. first lady Michelle Obama told a Cambodian audience Saturday that educating girls allows them "to participate in the political life of their country and hold their leaders accountable."
Obama spoke at a Peace Corps training event in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap. The visit is part of a two-nation trip that included Japan and is meant to highlight a new global women's education initiative of the Peace Corps.
The first lady said "Let Girls Learn" is all “about Peace Corps volunteers, community leaders, parents and girls themselves, working side by side to help girls go to school and, more importantly, stay in school.”
“Peace Corps volunteers help share American values with the world — values like equality, inclusiveness, fairness, openness. But the truth is, those aren’t just American values. We know this. They are universal human values. And the foundation for those values is actually the focus of all of your work here in Cambodia, and that’s education."
Obama said that "when girls get educated — when they learn to read and write and think — that gives them the tools to speak up” and demand equal treatment.
Earlier in the day, accompanied by Bun Rany, the wife of Cambodia's prime minister, Obama met with a group of girls at a school on the outskirts of the city. She told them to stay in school and take advantage of their education to demand greater freedoms in their impoverished country.
Cambodia is one of 11 countries the Obama administration has targeted for its new "Let Girls Learn" initiative, which aims to help educate the 62 million girls around the world who do not attend school.
At her stop Thursday in Japan, Obama — speaking alongside her Japanese counterpart, Akie Abe, said the U.S. and Japan would work together on the "Let Girls Learn" initiative.
"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 have never had a chance to go to school," Obama said.
In an opinion piece this week in The Wall Street Journal, Obama said 62 million girls not in school represented a "tragic waste of human potential."
"It is also a serious public health challenge, a drag on national economies and global prosperity, and a threat to the security of countries around the world, including our own," she said.
Michelle Obama Vists School Girls, Angkor Wat