During her trip to Qatar, First Lady Michelle Obama challenged more women to reach their “full potential” of getting jobs, instead of simply getting married and staying at home with the children.
“This is critical for countries around the world–including my own–that seek to modernize their workforces for the information age,” she said. “Because let’s be clear: a country cannot successfully make this transition if it disregards the talent and potential of half its citizens.”
The First Lady made her remarks during the World Innovation Summit on Education, insisting that even the United States was still falling short in getting more women into the workforce.
“We’re actually dealing with this issue in the U.S., where too many women still struggle to balance the needs of their family with the demands of their careers,” she said. “We still struggle with outdated beliefs that a woman cannot be both an accomplished professional and a devoted mother, that she has to choose between the two.”
She praised modern men for challenging the notion that women should remain at home while the men go to work.
“It turns out that many men want more time with their families,” she insisted. “They want their wives to be fulfilled at their jobs.”
The First Lady’s speech reflects the strongest push to date for not only education for women, but a cultural transformation that challenged more women to go to work outside the home.
She referred to the outdated notions that she struggled with in her own life that tried to hold her back from attending and graduating from prestigious Princeton University.
“Like so many girls across the globe, I got the message that I shouldn’t take up too much space in this world,” she said, “that I should speak softly and rarely.”
Speaking to reporters before the trip, Tina Tchen, Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff, emphasized that Obama would spend more time talking about breaking down cultural values that prevented women from getting jobs.
“Raising awareness about this issue is a really key part of Let Girls Learn,” she explained.
During her speech, Michelle Obama explained why more families needed to realize that advanced education and careers for women were a “better investment” than simply “forcing their daughters into early marriage or consigning them to household labor.”
“We cannot build a modern workforce with outdated laws and attitudes that keep women from entering and thriving in our workplaces,” she said.