Pakistan’s first daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, joined first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday in the fight for girls’ education worldwide, focusing on new programs to support the more than 70 percent of secondary school-age girls who don’t receive an education in her country.
At the White House, Obama announced $70 million in U.S. investments that will go toward the education and well-being of 200,000 adolescent girls in Pakistan, which she said will build on Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s commitment to double education spending.
The country spent about 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product on education in 2013, according to the World Bank.
Sharif also announced her father’s education reform program, which she said will completely change the school system and resources for students.
“We do it together,” Sharif said, holding hands with Obama. “The challenges are huge . . . girl by girl, classroom by classroom, school by school, woman by woman. We shall keep on making a difference. We shall not rest until every girl is learning in school.”
The U.S. investment comes as a part of the president and first lady’s Let Girls Learn initiative, which launched in March and brings together U.S. agencies and programs to expand educational opportunities for girls worldwide. It also called for action from other countries. Besides Pakistan, South Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom have generated more than $700 million for the cause.
“And we are just getting started on this issue,” Michelle Obama said. “I plan to continue this work, not just during the remaining time as first lady, but for the rest of my life.”
These girls are all of our girls. We can give every girl on this planet the future that she deserves.
The Pakistani investment will build more schools, rehabilitate others, set up health screenings and skills-training programs and fund college scholarships for girls, Obama said.
“These girls are all of our girls,” she said. “We can give every girl on this planet the future that she deserves.”
Sharif, like Obama, has two daughters, whom they both urged to pick up the fight for education. Obama asked them and girls worldwide to raise awareness about the number of girls globally without access to education with the hashtag #62MillionGirls.
Malala Yousafzai, co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, grew up in Pakistan struggling to receive safe access to education. The world heard her story in 2012 when gunmen attempted to kill her aboard a school bus. She has since become an advocate for girls’ education.
Though Sharif said she didn’t identify as a feminist, she said she believes in the power of women and their resilience to fight domestic, workplace and societal battles, as well as internal battles.
“You arm a young woman with a decent education and you see her conquer the world,” she said, looking out at her mother, Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif, whom she said valiantly fought the Pakistan dictatorship and for her father’s life while he was imprisoned.
Five young women in the Washington Performing Arts Society Children’s Choir closed the event, singing two a cappella songs, including “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Obama hugged each of the secondary school-age singers, explaining that they reaffirmed her mission.
“There are millions of girls who have this potential,” she said, her arm around one of the young singers, “and we’re not investing in them. . . . We’ll do that together.”