Women and Girls Around the World Celebrating International Women's Day

On Tuesday, I joined First Lady Michelle Obama and people around the world in celebrating the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day.  One hundred years ago, millions of people rallied in cities across the globe to demand equal rights for women: calling for the right to vote, to hold office, to work for fair pay and good conditions, and to be educated and trained.  Since 1911, people have gathered every year in March to celebrate advancements in gender equality and to peacefully call attention to issues affecting women around the world.  Our celebration in the White House demonstrated just how far we have come since 1911 and how, in 2011, we are committed to going even further.

First Lady at International Women's Day Celebration

First Lady Michelle Obama greets guests during the International Women's Day reception in the East Room of the White House. March 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

The international theme of this year’s celebration is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.” Not only are women and girls essential to winning the future in the United States, they are important for global prosperity. Just in time for International Women’s Day, the United Nations released a report that giving women the same agricultural tools, resources, and access to work as men could feed 150 million people.  And last week, our White House Council on Women and Girls released our report on “Women in America,” that documented “ the ways in which American women and girls have made substantial progress in educational attainment and achievement in the last few decades.” The full report can be found here.
 
The President has emphasized the importance of education, and especially in math, science and technology.  As he recently said at the TechBoston Academy, “There’s no better economic policy than one that produces more graduates with the skills they need to succeed -- to start their own businesses, to create their own Microsoft, to create new industries.”  And to  win the future we will need women and girls to fully participate in those fields and careers of the future.  You can read more about the President’s commitment to women in education here.  That’s why we are committed to investing in the efforts of the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to encourage girls to pursue science, math, engineering, and technology.  Preparing young women for careers in these important fields is key to our commitment to innovation and growth.  That’s why Startup America, a new public/private collaboration launched by the President, will help female entrepreneurs connect with corporations, startup funders, foundations and mentors to help their businesses start and grow.

At the White House’s celebration in the East Room, we had the opportunity to hear from two young women who are helping forge that pathway to work for women in their countries and abroad. We met Aissatou Hamidou Diall, an inspiring young activist and 6th grade student from the West African country Burkina Faso. Last year, Aissatou represented her school at an event in the city of Dori with over 500 important guests, including the Minister of Education, the Governor, and a Vice President of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Aissatou is an advocate for educating girls like herself – someone who is the first in her family to go to college.  Aissatou is just the type of young woman that the President wants to empower.  We want more young women acting as ambassadors for women’s issues in their communities and around the world.
 
On Tuesday, we also heard from Shannon McNamara, a 17 year-old high school senior from Basking Ridge, NJ, who founded an organization to empower girls in Africa through education. When not in Tanzania working on SHARE (Shannon’s After-school Reading Exchange), Shannon speaks to organizations across the country about the education of African girls.  For young women who are inspired by Shannon, the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign allows American girls to use their passion and energy to help their peers around the world by advocating for education, health services and safety from violence for hard-to-reach adolescent women.  Shannon and the Girl Up girls are just the type of young women who will help win the future through innovative and collaborative foreign policy and aid. 

And at the end of the evening, I watched a group of four girls who joined us from the Howard Math and Science Academy as they met Assiatou and her sister, connecting through interpreters on the things that middle school girls around the world have in common – their favorite color, their favorite subject in school.  They are our future, and why celebrating International Women’s Day is so important. 

Tina Tchen is the Chief of Staff to the First Lady and the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls

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