LONDON, United Kingdom – Michelle Obama came to the East End of London today and visited a girls’ school. In a conspicuous display of moral vanity, she announced her aim was to promote a campaign for girls’ education. As if it mattered to anyone outside the obedient White House media bubble.
The First Lady hosted the event at the Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets to discuss joint work between America and Britain to boost education for adolescent girls across the world through the Let Girls Learn initiative, jointly championed by her and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Pupils at the single-sex comprehensive also had the chance to question Mrs Obama – along with former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard, who chairs the board of the Global Partnership for Education.
Trouble is, for all the glossy symbolism of the visit, the UK has an open education system. Adolescent girls are not excluded and are free to learn alongside their male counterparts at all levels. If anything it is young males who need to be helped and supported rather than females.
Look at the numbers. At tertiary level the figures show that there were more female (55 per cent) than male fulltime undergraduates (45 per cent) enrolled at British universities in 2011 – a trend which shows no sign of shrinking.
Surely it would have been more realistic for the Michelle Obama roadshow to have gone to some of the countries around the world where girls really struggle to succeed in life. Like Yemen. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Afghanistan. Or Iraq, Mali and Pakistan. Or perhaps on the very doorstep of Boko Haram’s new caliphate in Nigeria.
Remember the Chibok kidnapping? On the night of 14–15 April 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. Responsibility for the kidnappings was claimed by Boko Haram, an Islamic Jihadist and terrorist organization based in northeast Nigeria.
It sparked outrage around the world and Mrs Obama was photographed in the White House holding a sign saying ‘#BringBackOurGirls.’ How quickly she seems to have forgotten them.
Instead she came to London for what was by any measure a contrived media event sandwiched between taking tea with Prince Harry and heading to the airport to continue her trip to to Madrid and Venice, along with her live-in mother, Marian Robinson, and daughters, Malia and Sasha.
Lots of pictures opportunities. Pleasant, smiling faces. Ultimately nothing beyond a quick media facility before the Michelle Obama caravan moved on.
So perhaps in return the UK can send Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife Samantha to the U.S. to help it solve its own manifest problems of racial integration and educational opportunity. That’s only fair. Maybe Mrs Cameron can stand in front of a school in Washington to point out the real and perceived obstacles that prevent adolescent girls from succeeding in the U.S. academic world.
Sounds patronising, I know, but no less patronising than Michelle Obama choosing to do the same in the UK.