Mulberry is proud to carry forward the work of Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn campaign in the UK; and, on Tuesday 11th October, our relationship with the current First Lady of the United States continued as we were the UK host for the first ever global Skype conversation between school girls across the world and the education activists working alongside them, an event organised by Glamour Magazine.
Students from Mulberry and Elizabeth Garret Anderson school gathered in the Mulberry and Bigland Green theatre for this historic event. The programme began with a Q&A with British actress Ruth Wilson, who talked frankly and with great passion about the need for complex female roles, the importance of tackling sexism in the arts and performance industry, and the importance of helping all girls to develop confidence and a strong sense of self – an area in which schools are a particularly important resource for young women.
The Skype call then went live, and we were able to connect with girls in Tanzania, Cambodia, Peru and Washington DC. After a round of introductions, we listened to an interview between Michelle Obama and the actress and activist Yara Shahidi, hosted by Cindi Leive, Editor in Chief of Glamour Magazine. Mrs Obama was typically inspiring, revisiting the themes of the speech she gave at Mulberry when launching her Let Girls Learn campaign in the UK: she reinforced the transformative power of education in a girl’s life and the lives of her family and community; she stressed the importance of girls currently in education using the platforms and opportunities they are given to advocate on behalf of their sisters around the world who are currently denied access to such an education; and she placed great emphasis on the need for women and girls to support one another, saying ‘We can all rise together. We have to be a team of women and girls who love each other’. Yara Shahidi, herself applying for university places in the US, reflected on the difficulty of maintaining self-confidence when the world tells girls to know their place. She stressed to girls listening that they are ‘allowed to take up space’, and that they should resist the patriarchal interpretation of their confidence as unseemly aggression – a message the First Lady enthusiastically seconded.
After this interview, girls around the world were given a voice, placed at the forefront of this essential conversation. One student from each country gave a short speech about the importance of education for herself and her peers and the challenges unique to their situation. It is hard to put into words how it felt to see and hear our sisters around the world, to listen to them as they reflected on the role that school plays in their lives. It was one of the most powerful moments in Mulberry’s long history of pioneering women’s education.
Our own Ayesha Begum, 12GW, spoke on behalf of girls at school in the UK. Ayesha gave a speech that she had written herself, in which she reflected on the challenges that face girls at school in areas like ours, where socio-economic deprivation is a significant barrier to success. Without flinching from the very real obstacles that stand in the way of UK girls from the most disadvantaged communities, Ayesha also celebrated the good fortune enjoyed by UK girls, who have high-quality state-funded education available to them from ages 5-18. Ayesha represented the determination of all of her peers to be a force for good in the world when she said that girls in the UK have a responsibility to fight for their sisters around the world who are denied the chance to go to school. She outlined the work that Mulberry is doing in support of Let Girls Learn, and asked Mrs Obama ‘Is this what you had in mind when you visited our school?’ The Former First Lady’s answer? A resounding ‘Yes!’
We are once again honoured to join Michelle Obama and her team in the fight for girls’ rights across the world, and incredibly proud of the energy and determination of our students as they rise to the challenge of ensuring that every girl has the chance to go to school. The US Presidency is changing hands against a backdrop of global uncertainty – but our students, and the global community of girls at school of whom they form a part, continue to inspire us with hope for the future. Mrs Obama is preparing to hand over her post as First Lady of the United States, but will continue to be an advocate for girls’ education after she has left the White House – and we will continue to support her and this, her crucially important cause, in the UK.