First lady Michelle Obama will travel to Qatar and Jordan Nov. 1 to 7 to promote worldwide education for girls as part of her ‘Let Girls Learn’ initiative which launched in March.
During her week abroad, Obama will travel to Doha, Qatar to speak at the annual World Innovation Summit for Education. She will also participate in roundtable sessions to discuss the importance of secondary school education with an emphasis on adolescent women.
“Secondary school completion is a problem, especially for girls,” said Tina Tchen, assistant to the president and chief of staff to the first lady. Adolescent girls living in conflict areas are 90 percent more likely to not attend secondary school than their counterparts in areas not affected by conflict, Tchen said, citing a UNESCO study.
The same study also reported that girls are “almost two and a half times more likely to be out of school if they live in conflict-affected areas,” compared with boys their age.
Tchen said secondary school, specifically, needs to improve for girls because this is “when you see huge levels of disparity, especially in parts of Africa and the Middle East.” At this age, girls face high risks of marriage or violent threats that can lead them to drop out of school, Tchen said.
When girls complete their education and enter the workforce, a country’s GDP may increase as much as 15 to 25 percent, Tchen said. However, high education rates does not always lead to high labor rates. In Jordan, for example, Tchen said only 16 percent of women in Jordan are in the workforce.
“Jordan is an example of a country that is doing great work educating its children, both boys and girls,” as well as displaced children from Syria, Tchen said.
The United States has worked with Jordan for more than six decades to rebuild the education system, said Susan Markham, senior coordinator for gender equality and women’s empowerment at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In Amman, the first lady will visit a USAID-constructed school where 400 Syrian students are currently studying, Markham said. From 2002 to 2014, USAID invested $419 million in “new humanity funding for Syrians across Jordan’s education sector.” The agency has constructed 28 new schools, rehabilitated 25 existing schools and renovated 550 kindergarten classrooms within the last 5 years, Markham said.
While in the region, Obama will also travel to the Al Udeid Air Base to visit the 11,000 U.S. service members stationed there. Conan O’Brien is scheduled to perform for the troops at the base during Obama’s visit.