A First (Lady) for Girls: An Important Message for All

Becca Bean '17, Summer Staff Writer

There I sat, me and a couple hundred of my closest friends, anxiously awaiting FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States). We had gone through security, packed into the basement of the W Hotel in Washington, D.C. like sardines, and now sent out some last minute “Michelle Obama is coming!” tweets using #GirlsLead15. We were ready. The 2015 Girl Up Leadership Summit was about to begin. It brought together young activists from all over the world. This year’s theme was “Stand Up. Speak Up. Rise Up.”

First Lady Michelle Obama summed up the main purpose of the Summit; “step by step, village by village, school by school, girl by girl – that’s how you make change in this world.”

First Up, First Lady.
First Up, First Lady.

Day 1: Stand Up

Day 1 began as 225 young leaders filled their plates with mini croissants and fruit, and sat at assigned tables based on their hometown. The day’s program focused on exploring the issues adolescent girls face, Girl Up, and our power in making a change. Kula Fovana, a Liberian Adolescent Rights Activist said, “if you see something, do something about it. We can change the world.”

Elizabeth Plank , Senior Policy Editor at Mic gave a lesson in “power posing,” explaining that the amount of space one takes up has a direct correlation with confidence level. She taught us to stretch out and fill up a room prior to an important presentation or job interview to feel more self-assured.

Day 2: Speak Up

It was time to hear from Michelle Obama about Let Girls Learn, a new partnership involving the State Department, USAID, Peace Corps, and organizations such as Girl Up to expand access to education for adolescent girls around the world. FLOTUS said, “I am passionate about these 62 million girls who are out of school.” She gave the crowd insight into how Let Girls Learn works, describing the duties of specially trained Peace Corps volunteers who work within the community to enroll more girls in school. We were fascinated by reports of volunteers talking to reluctant fathers about their daughter’s education, or building bathrooms in schools so that girls do not have to stay home while on their periods. Inspired, Girl Up pledged to raise $50,000 to support Let Girls Learn.

Watch Michelle Obama’s full remarks here.

Later that day, participants were inspired by more information about the work done by the United Nations to support adolescent girls, matters such as gender based violence, child marriage, and trafficking, as well as words from actress Monique Coleman from High School Musical.

Day 3: Rise Up

Fueled by inspiration and excellent words of encouragement from the First Lady herself, on Day 3 participants took Capitol Hill by storm to lobby Congress. At prior leadership summits, advocates had spoken with their members of Congress about the Girls Count Act, a bill supporting birth registration in developing countries. In June, President Obama signed the Girls Count Act into law!

Wakefield Girl Up club with Senator Mark Warner on Lobby Day.
Wakefield Girl Up club members with Senator Mark Warner on Lobby Day.

This year activists focused on education for refugees, explaining the issue, and asking that members of Congress stand up, speak up, and rise up for girls, just as we had been doing all week. Dr. Anju Malhotra, Principal Advisor for Gender and Development at UNICEF said, “it is important for the world to have ambition for girls, not just for girls to have ambition for themselves.” This statement shows how much progress still needs to be made in empowering girls all over the world, something that can only be done together.

Wakefield’s Girl Up club has big plans for the year, inspired by lessons learned from the Leadership Summit. Join us for our first meeting on September 15th after school!

Follow the club on Twitter to find out about meetings and activities.

Here I am in front of the Girl Up wall at the summit.
Here I am in front of the Girl Up wall at the summit.