Michelle Obama And Laura Bush On Prioritizing Rights Of Girls And Women

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Michelle Obama and Laura Bush

[U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit: Day Three]

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA AND MRS. LAURA BUSH

MODERATED BY COKIE ROBERTS AT “INVESTING IN OUR FUTURE,” A SYMPOSIUM FOR SPOUSES ON ADVANCEMENTS FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS IN AFRICA

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.

MS. ROBERTS:  Well, I am so excited that we get to do this again.

MRS. BUSH:  We did this last summer in Dar es Salaam.

MS. ROBERTS:  In Tanzania.  And thank you so much for that.  It was a wonderful, wonderful experience for all of us to be there with you.  So thank you for hosting us last year.  And thank you for hosting us this year.  So here we are.

MRS. OBAMA:  It’s my pleasure.

MS. ROBERTS:  But it is -- I remember, as I recall, when were -- last year you were still getting blowback about your bangs.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Yes, that’s over.

MRS. BUSH:  That’s an important issue.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Let’s see what they say about this one.

MS. ROBERTS:  But the program -- you have bangs in the program, I just have to -- (laughter) -- and since then, your daughter has turned 16.

MRS. OBAMA:  Yes, I know.  (Laughter.)

MS. ROBERTS:  I know, but I have to tell you, I am envious to anybody who’s had a daughter turn 16, as envious to have it happen in the White House where you kind of can keep an eye on her.

MRS. OBAMA:  We can share the experience with the world.  (Laughter.)  All the pain and pleasure that goes along with it.

MS. ROBERTS:  I remember Lucy Johnson, President Johnson’s daughter, saying when she turned 16 in the White House and got a driver’s license, she said, it was permission to drive a motor vehicle.  That’s all it was.  (Laughter.)  For most people, a driver’s license is freedom.

MRS. OBAMA:  That’s right.  That’s right.

MS. ROBERTS:  But you’re experiencing it well, right?

MRS. OBAMA:  The girls are growing up.  And as Laura and the President know, that it is a true testament to the parents to raise wonderful young people through this experience.  And we have had some terrific role models -- Jenna and Barbara are just amazing young women who are doing extraordinary things, not just in this country, but around the globe.  And once again, they’re setting a high bar.  But the girls are doing great.  I’m very proud of them.

MS. ROBERTS:  And you have a grand-baby, a girl.

MRS. BUSH:  That’s right.  We have our first grand-baby.  Yes, exactly.  (Applause.)  Our darling little Mila.  George and I are just gaga over our baby.

MRS. OBAMA:  How old is she now?

MRS. BUSH:  She’s 16 months.

MRS. OBAMA:  Oh, she’s doing real things.

MS. ROBERTS:  Also 16.

MRS. BUSH:  Yes, exactly -- 16 months.  She’s doing great.

MS. ROBERTS:  So we just saw that very important video.  And, Mrs. Obama, you spoke last week to the Young African leaders, and you were very strong in your statements about the need for educating girls and treating women and girls with dignity and equality.  Why did you choose to do that?

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, so often what we find in our positions is that you can -- you have to change attitudes before you can change behaviors.  And one of the things I said to the young people, that we can talk about the need for more resources as it comes -- when it concerns girls’ education, the need for school fees and the need to improve transportation.  But the bottom line is that until men, leaders, women, until we value women and girls, we won’t tackle those other problems.  Until we prioritize our girls and understand that they are as important and their education is as important as the education of our sons, then we will have lots of work to do.

And I wanted to just implant that notion in the minds of these young leaders, because they have to approach their work with a whole new attitude.  And one of the things I asked the young men is that you have to be introspective and ask yourselves whether you truly believe that women can be your equal.  And in sharing my story, just understanding the power of having men in my life who valued me and put me first and treated me with respect and didn’t abuse me, and didn’t talk down to me -- I want young men around the world to understand that they have a role to play alongside women who are fighting for these rights, and I want our young men to understand this at an early age.  (Applause.)

MS. ROBERTS:  Mrs. Bush, you have been working on this issue for a long time, particularly with women of Afghanistan.  And are you still doing that?  Tell us about where --

MRS. BUSH:  Yes, we’re still working on that.  After September 11th, when the spotlight turned to Afghanistan and we in the United States looked at the way women in Afghanistan were treated, many, many people, women and men in the U.S., were concerned.  And that’s when I first started working with women in Afghanistan.

And Mrs. Obama is right -- in fact, one person said to me one time, why are you working with women, it’s men who have the problem.  (Laughter.)  And I think we do need to make sure worldwide that all humans are valued -- that women and men are valued, that girls and boys are valued, and that human life is valued.  I think that’s really the most important thing we can do, all of us can do, is try to increase that knowledge worldwide that every life is precious.

MS. ROBERTS:  And of course on this question, the question of girls’ education and women’s health and all that, we have so much data now that shows that if you educate a girl, you save a country.  So are you finding that you’re able to keep working on that, that that’s something you’re able -- because one of the questions I got last year after you all finished talking and I stayed for a couple of days from these wonderful women was, how do you keep it going?

MRS. BUSH:  Well, one of the things we’ve done, George and I have done -- obviously when you live in the White House you have a platform.  But former First Ladies and former Presidents continue to have a platform and a convening power, and we’ve tried to do that with the First Ladies Initiative that we started last summer with the first conference in Dar es Salaam, and that is to bring together First Ladies really from around the world.

We started with African First Ladies but we’re interested in engaging women from every -- First Ladies from every country to talk about the very unique platform that the spouses of world leaders have to help the women in their countries, to make sure that everyone is paying attention to the education of boys and girls in their country, and that we’re making sure that women have the opportunity to be involved in the economic life of their country.

Because only countries where all people are involved can be successful.  When we look around the world and we see countries where half of the population is marginalized or left out, then we usually see countries that are failing.  So it’s important to keep talking about that.

MRS. OBAMA:  And it’s important, as I said in my opening remarks, to make room for the next generation of leaders.  Because one of the things that the young people said to me, as I mentioned, is that they asked me to ask the first spouses to make room for them because they’re looking for a place at the table.  And they specifically said that when you meet with the spouses of our country, tell that we want to help, that we want a voice, and that we’re looking to them.  They’re looking to all of us to provide that seat.

And that’s where that platform that Mrs. Bush speaks of, why it’s so important.  Because these young people, they believe that we -- they get their inspiration from us.  They’re looking to us.  They still don’t quite know that they have the expertise and the skills already, they think we know more.

MS. ROBERTS:  We actually do.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  We do, we do.  But when you listen to just the opening speakers, when you think about social media -- I mean, just listening to the hashtags and the Twitter accounts -- I mean, that was a little nutty.  (Laughter.)  But it’s how you continue the conversation.

MS. ROBERTS:  And globalize it.

MRS. OBAMA:  And globalize it.  And young people are just more adept at that.  And they can -- as I tease my kids, I tell them I want them to use Instagram to take a picture of something really important rather than their food.  (Laughter.)  But young people can be a support to us.  I mean, no one really cares what you had for lunch.  (Laughter.)

MS. ROBERTS:  Well, you both talked last year when we were having this conversation about shining a light on an issue, and that you -- in this unique position, that you have the opportunity to shine the light.  At some point, people stop looking at what you’re wearing and see what you’re aiming at.

One of the questions I get all the time is, how do you choose?  How do you choose what issue to shine a light on?  Now, you knew when you came in that you wanted to do something about military families, but it was kind of inchoate, right?  You expected to do something about early childhood education and cognition, and of course, September 11th changed all of that.  How do you put it together to decide exactly what you’re going to do?

MRS. BUSH:  Well, I think you look at yourself and see what your expertise is.  When I came to the White House, I was a -- had been a librarian.  I loved to read.  I had been a teacher.  And so, education and literacy were very, very obvious interests of mine and expertise of mine, so what’s I started with.

But then, also you look at what appears, and are there ways you can take advantage of different things that happen to go in another way.  I got a phone call, for instance, from the head of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute here in Washington and she said, did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women?  And I didn’t know that.  I just had assumed cancer was the leading cause of death among American women.  So I knew if I didn’t know that heart disease was the leading cause of death, that many American women didn’t know that either.

And so I was presented with the opportunity to talk about The Heart Truth and to get the word out to American women that heart disease was the leading cause of death so that they could start doing things, because heart disease is often preventable.  But also, if you know that you might have a heart attack, it wouldn’t just be your husband that had a heart attack, then you can rush to the hospital yourself and get the kind of treatment that you would demand for your husband but you might not realize you would need it yourself.

So I think there are both ways, both look to your own expertise and then just take advantage of other interests that come up and see if you can make a difference in your countries.

MRS. OBAMA:  Also, where your passions lie.  Because I’ve found that I’ve been most effective when I am uniquely authentic, there’s an authenticity to what I say.  So that means I have to really believe passionately in the causes that I take on.  And that lends itself to more power, more effectiveness.  It just makes you a better advocate, because this is something you care deeply about.  This was true when it came to the issue of educating our young people.

I just started an initiative this year, Reach Higher, because one of the things I’m deeply passionate about is the role that education has to play in the lives of our young people.  And my story is the story that I try to share with young people to motivate them.  There is nothing in my life that would indicate that I would be sitting here on this stage with a former First Lady and one of the most renowned journalists and every first spouse in Africa.  (Laughter.)  Nothing in my life indicated that.

But my parents believed in the value of education, even though they were not educated themselves.  And they pushed my brother and I to do the best that we could do.  So what I want young people in America to understand is that we are blessed in this country to have public education, to have opportunities that many girls around the world are putting their lives at risk to achieve.  So it’s incumbent upon us here in America to take advantage of every opportunity.  And young people have to own their education.

I can do that because I believe it.  It is my story.  It is why I’m sitting here.  And my hope is that I can start a national conversation about reigniting that hunger for education in our young people and using that to talk about the issues that our girls around the world are facing with 60 million girls today not in school, 30 million of those in Sub-Saharan Africa.

I want our young people across the globe to be talking about how do we fix that.  So that's just an example.  I’m clearly passionate about that.  (Laughter.)

MS. ROBERTS:  But one of the things that we’re going to do today in the various panels is how-to, essentially.  And you all have done the how-to.  And part of that is private-public partnerships.  And on all of your initiatives it seems to me that you’ve both done that; that you’ve brought in universities, companies, foundations, whatever combination of things works.  Can you talk about it, for instance, with Helping America’s Youth?

MRS. BUSH:  Sure.  Helping America’s Youth was one of my initiatives.  And I traveled around the country and had summits, actually conferences in many parts of the United States with all of the youth-serving agencies, types of agencies -- from individual foundations that people had to individuals themselves; two men, for instance, who used sports to teach character building in Seattle and worked with sports groups because they knew they could attract boys, and then they attracted their mothers there because their mothers would bring the boys to their sports practices.  So they would talk about sportsmanship in a way that really talked about life, and the way that people can use all the characteristics of a good sport to also be a good person.

But what they discovered, then, was that their mothers were, in many cases, single mothers.  They didn't have a community really of their own.  And so they started -- after the sports games, they would have barbecues so the mothers could meet each other and be with each other.  And really, they were out to help the boys, but found out they helped the whole family with this one agency -- or one foundation that these two men started.  And that's just one example of many, many others that were part of Helping America’s Youth.

MS. ROBERTS:  And helping people get off of drugs or not get into drugs

MRS. BUSH:  That's right.

MS. ROBERTS:  And it seems to me in some ways you’ve built on that with Let's Move.  It is being preventatively healthy all along.  So talk to us a little bit about how you’ve put that together.

MRS. OBAMA:  For those of you who don't know, Let's Move is my initiative to end childhood obesity in a generation.  And we have really relied greatly on public-private partnerships because what we all have to understand is government has limits -- limited resources, a limited base of power.  People look to government and think that government can do everything, but many of the solutions that we’re trying to achieve require the involvement of the nonprofit sector and the private sector.

So we’ve really enlisted companies to market food differently to kids so that they are not marketing unhealthy products.  We’ve enlisted sports organizations to get kids up and moving, try to invest in more sports in communities that are underserved.  Whether it’s the U.S. Tennis Association or the NBA or what have you, many of these private players have been very eager to step up and partner with us to achieve this goal, because we all have an interest in making sure that the next generation is as healthy as possible.  We spend billions of dollars in covering obesity-related illnesses, and all of these illnesses are completely preventable with good diet and nutrition, exercise.

So what we have said to many of our partners is that we all have an interest in this, and there’s a way that we can all do well by doing good.  We can -- companies can still be profitable by creating foods and educating parents and families to help them make better choices about what they feed their kids.

MS. ROBERTS:  I must say, with teenage daughters, though, it must be -- I would suspect that sometimes they say to you, let’s move, mom.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Yes, you’ve been sitting at our dining room table, Cokie?  (Laughter.)  Well, you know, every teenager has a little smart aleck in them, it’s true.

But one of the things we’ve found in our household is that kids listen.  They take on these new messages even when we don’t think they’re paying attention.  And that’s one of the things that we try to tell parents, is that they don’t -- you don’t know that they’re listening, but I see how my children make different decisions about what they eat now as teenagers now that they have control because they have the information about how food affects their overall health and their ability to perform.  But it’s our job to empower parents and families to make the choices that are best for them.

MS. ROBERTS:  You’ve gotten some blowback for it, which to some ways --

MRS. OBAMA:  Surprising.  (Laughter.)  Blowback, right?

MS. ROBERTS:  Don’t worry, that was --

MRS. OBAMA:  I don’t know.

MRS. BUSH:  No good deed goes --

MRS. OBAMA:  Right.  (Laughter.)

MS. ROBERTS:  That was just where I was headed.  I know that you both get into these things and you’re doing them for the good of the country, and suddenly you get criticized for it.  And it must just be such a shock in a way.

MRS. BUSH:  Well, I was not that shocked.  (Laughter.)  Remember, we had somebody that lived in the White House that we watched very closely that we loved -- President Bush and Barbara Bush.  And so I was very aware when George ran for President that you’re always going to be characterized in a way that you aren’t, really.  And so I don’t think it was any big surprise to me.  That doesn’t make it any less hurtful.

But on the other hand, I think anyone who’s in a leadership position of any sort knows that you’re going to be criticized and a target, really, for criticism.

MRS. OBAMA:  That’s absolutely true.  And that’s really the role of leadership.  It’s not about amassing power; it’s taking some of those hits and continuing to do the work, even when it’s painful and sometimes unappreciated.

But that’s why it’s important for all of us to have a vision as first spouses.  Because if you have your vision and you know what you’re passionate about, and you know what direction you’re going in, then all of the arrows and the spears and the criticisms, they just -- they bounce off of you because you keep doing the work every day.

MS. ROBERTS:  They might pinch a little.

MRS. OBAMA:  They might pinch a little bit.  You might get shot in the eye.  You just sort of go to the doctor, patch yourself up and get back in the game.

MS. ROBERTS:  Well, I think that’s an important message for people to hear, because it’s hard to do what you all are doing.  And you talked about “it’s not about amassing power” -- it’s certainly not for the spouses.  It’s not being in that role, and still, you get the criticism.  So it’s important to say that you’ve lived through it.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, and everyone comes to these positions with different temperaments.  And watching Mrs. Bush, she has been able to traverse all of this with a level of grace and kindness and compassion.  Just seeing how our transition worked -- and we talked about this in Tanzania -- that people are who they are.  I said this in my convention speech about the President -- being President doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.  And that’s true for first spouses as well.

You come to this with a temperament.  Some people are shy and never want the limelight; other people are much more outgoing and maybe a bit more aggressive and able to withstand the heat of the spotlight that shines on us.  But I think that all of us, we have to bring what is uniquely us to the table and work within that.  And that’s sometimes what people around the world don’t understand.  First spouses, we don’t choose this position, we just happen to be in it, and we do the --

MRS. BUSH:  We’re elected by one man.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Right, right.  

MS. ROBERTS:  And you can’t be fired.

MRS. OBAMA:  Can’t be fired.

MRS. BUSH:  We certainly hope not.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  I guess we’ll see.  (Laughter.)

MS. ROBERTS:  Well, one of the things that is unique is your voice as women, and you both talked about that last year.  I went back and looked at -- you were both quite eloquent about how important it is for women to use to your voices and your power.  And I think, Mrs. Obama, you said, we’re not complicated, but we’re complex.  And I think that’s a good way of putting it.  But again, Mrs. Bush, why is it important for women’s voices in this particular position to be heard?

MRS. BUSH:  For the First Lady, well, I think it’s important because the First Lady has an opportunity really to talk about what is most interesting to her and what she thinks she can help -- the ways she thinks she can help her country and the people in her country the best.  I love to quote Lady Bird Johnson, who said, the First Lady has a podium and she intended to use it -- and she did.  She was another Texas First Lady, and I admired her from a distance.  I didn’t know her then, but got to know her later when George was governor and we lived in Austin.

But she really did, she used what she loved.  And she happened to love native flowers and the natural beauty of our country.  And she made a huge difference.

MS. ROBERTS:  Well, and Head Start.

MRS. BUSH:  The daffodils that you see blooming here along the George Washington Parkway were planted because of Lady Bird Johnson.  But, yes, she used education and civil rights.  And she was a southern First Lady, so it was very important for her to speak out about civil rights, and she did.  She campaigned all across the South for the civil rights laws that were passed and signed during President Johnson’s administration.

MRS. OBAMA:  Once again, I always go back to young people.  We meet -- I know I do -- we meet thousands of just wonderful young people in our countries and around the world.  And to have a seven year old or a 12 year old walk up to you or send you a letter and tell them thank you for what you do, I look up to you, you inspire me.  That reminds us all that whether we like it or not, we are role models.  And as women, we have -- the young girls in our worlds, in our countries, they’re looking to us.  They’re looking to us for how we should be, how we should think, how to use our voices.

And as a result, we have a responsibility to show them the way in whatever way we can.  And that may be something as simple as embracing a child on the line and telling them that they’re beautiful and that you’re proud of them, and that you know that they’re important and they’re valued.  I think about that, because every time I meet a child I think, who knows what’s going on in her life, whether she was just bullied or whether she had a bad day at school or whether she lost a parent -- that interaction that we have with that individual, that child for that moment, could change their life.

So we can’t waste this spotlight.  It is temporary and life is short, and change is needed.  And women are smarter than men.  (Laughter and applause.)

MS. ROBERTS:  That just goes without saying.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  And the men can’t complain, because you’re outnumbered today.  (Laughter.)

MS. ROBERTS:  But Mrs. Bush, you’ve talked about that before, too, that it’s a temporary spotlight.  But you are now working hard to carry it on.  And I think that sense of continuity is very important, so you have the George W. Bush First Ladies Initiative, you have the Global Women’s Initiative, the women for Afghanistan -- you’re keeping going.

MRS. BUSH:  We are continuing to work, both George and I are, through the George Bush Institute, which is in Dallas now at the Bush Library and Museum.  And it gives both of us a chance to keep working on the issues that were the most important to us.  Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is our global health initiative.  Many of you already know about that.  We’ve launched in three countries in Africa, and we’re going to hear about some more in a few minutes.

Because PEPFAR was started while George was President, the President’s emergency plan for AIDS relief, we wanted to be able to continue a global health initiative that builds on PEPFAR.  And when we looked at the cancer numbers across Africa, and really across the world, and saw that cervical cancer -- which is preventable -- is the leading cause of cancer death among African women, we figured out there was a way we could use the PEPFAR platform that’s already established and add the testing and treatment for cervical and breast cancer to PEPFAR.

And so, that’s our global health initiative.  It’s given us a way to keep building.  And we have a number of terrific partners who are in the room, so thank you all to all the partners, and thanks to the First Ladies in the countries where we’ve already launched and where we’re getting ready to launch.

MS. ROBERTS:  I just thought that was such a smart initiative, because it really does combine so many elements that are just sensible, which is another thing women are good at.  But the fact is, is that you had the PEPFAR clinics, so the women were already coming in, but you needed -- since breast cancer isn’t caused by the same diseases, you needed to get somebody else in so you got Susan G. Komen and the pharmaceutical companies in.  And it’s really now turned out to be a total women’s health platform. 

MRS. BUSH:  It is, really.  And it’s partnering, obviously, with the U.S. government as well, using the -- U.S. State Department is our partner, because we are using the PEPFAR platform to add.  And the great news is that cervical cancer really can be treated -- not when it’s advanced, which is why it’s so important that women come to be screened early on and then be treated.  And then, the vaccination programs with the HPV vaccination is important.  And I think many African First Ladies are trying now to manage these vaccination programs, so that we really won’t even have to worry about cervical cancer when these girls who are vaccinated grow up.

Q    And do you think about that, Mrs. Obama?  I know you’re still right in the middle of it.

MRS. BUSH:  I hope you’re not thinking about that, yet.

MRS. OBAMA:  Oh, no, not at all.  Not at all.  (Laughter.)

MS. ROBERTS:  But about how you can carry on some of these -- and talk about some of your other initiatives too while you’re doing it, because you have done these private-public partnerships, particularly around the military families.

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, Dr. Biden and I, we started Joining Forces, which is a nationwide effort to provide the support, respect to our men and women in uniform and their families.  We have worked with private companies to create jobs as these men and women transition to civilian life, working on making sure they get the education benefits, all the support that they should expect having put their lives on the line and their families’ lives on hold.

MS. ROBERTS:  And the medical schools -- you’re working with medical schools too?

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, nurses are becoming trained to be able to identify and support men and women who may have post-traumatic stress disorder; just educating the entire country on what PTSD means, trying to de-stigmatize it so that these men and women feel like they can seek help when they need it.  All of that has been -- it is a passion for both Jill and I.

Jill is a Blue Star Mom, and she proudly says that.  She has grandchildren who she has seen grow up while her son Beau was deployed, so it’s truly a passion for her.  And for me, this is something that I’m going to do long after we leave the White House, because these needs will always be there.  And as I’ve been able to see through former first spouses and former Presidents, that the platform is -- it continues.  And that's something that I would encourage all of you to think about as well, is how do you sort of lay the foundation for the legacy that you want to create for yourselves.

And I think as women, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about our legacies, what we want to leave behind in the work that we do.  Yes, there are so many important, symbolic responsibilities that we have in our roles, but there is nothing wrong with thinking about legacy and what we want to leave for the world.

But that takes planning.  It takes coordination.  It takes partnerships.  And I don’t think that we should be afraid as women to have those conversations.  It’s too soon for me to do it now -- (laughter) -- but the time will come and I will embrace that, because what I’ve seen from the Bush family is that there is a level of freedom that also comes after you’re out of the spotlight; it’s a new spotlight, it’s a different spotlight.  But I think that there is more that you’re able to do outside of office oftentimes than you can do when you’re in office.

MS. ROBERTS:  Except you don’t have the same -- I remember you saying at one point, Mrs. Bush, you could pick up the phone and call a member of Congress and get something done.  (Laughter)

MRS. BUSH:  Yes, exactly.  (Laughter.)

MS. ROBERTS:  But I also just want to come back because we are at an African summit and both of you have exhibited such a strong interest in Africa, and I think you have very much helped to shine a spotlight on the continent and caused us all to learn a great deal more about the good news that’s going on in Africa.  But I’m kind of wondering how you got there.  I mean, Mrs. Bush, I know you were in 75 countries when you were First Lady, which is a lot, but why Africa?

MRS. BUSH:  Well, obviously, it started with PEPFAR.  When George launched PEPFAR in 2003, remember what it was like -- people were dying every single day all across Africa.  It was a huge pandemic that was going to leave a continent of orphans if no one did anything about it.  And so George saw that it was really important for the United States to be actively involved in helping in Africa.  It was so important for us, as the wealthiest country in the world, both because we could, but also because we should morally try to save as many lives as possible.

So I went on that trip with George in 2003 when PEPFAR was launched.  And our daughter Barbara was with us as well, and she has really made her life choices because of that trip.  She is now the head of Global Health Corps, she engages young people from every part of the world.

MS. ROBERTS:  She created it, right?

MRS. BUSH:  She created Global Health Corps, founded it to engage young people to work in the health field.  And she has Global Health Corps fellows in Africa and also here in the United States.

But I think because of that first trip and because of PEPFAR, we just got a huge interest in Africa and traveled there many times, and of course have traveled there many times since we’ve been home.  We just had a wonderful trip this last March -- a private trip, not a business trip -- to Ethiopia to visit the Christian sites in Ethiopia.  So Africa has become a very important continent to us, partly because of that, because of PEPFAR, but just also because of our experiences there.

MRS. OBAMA:  And Africa is an important continent to the rest of the world.  Its success is integral to the success of this nation, the United States and the world.  And it is an under-valued, under-appreciated continent.  So it is incumbent upon the world to have a better understanding of what Africa has to offer.

The importance of Africa is very personal to me because, as the President said last night in his toast, Africa is home for us.  His family is there.  We have relatives there.  We have visited the continent on several occasions.  We have taken our daughters back to his grandfather’s village and they have seen a part of themselves.

So the partnership with this continent means a great deal to us.  And we've seen the power, the potential -- I mean, to meet these young leaders and to see how hungry they are to take their countries to a new level, that kind of passion is infectious, and it's something that young people here should know and understand.

We want people from America to travel to Africa, to understand its languages and its different cultures, and not to see it as a monolith, and to truly see the investment opportunities -- which is one of the reasons why this summit has been so important, because it hasn’t just been a conversation with world leaders, but some of the nation’s most powerful businesses are here; some of the most prestigious non-profits are here.  That's why today’s session is so important, because our success as a nation is directly tied to the success of Africa.  And now it is time for the United States as a whole to embrace that reality.

So this is the beginning of a lot of work that needs to be done, but it is -- we are encouraged and we are optimistic.

MS. ROBERTS:  Well, I think this week has been very instructive for the whole country.  I really do.  It was wonderful to be in Africa, but to have African leaders here in the United States is educating the country about what is going on there.

But I am going to end where we began, which is that as good as the news is coming out of much of Africa, it won't be as good as it can be until we do more about the girls.

MRS. BUSH:  That's right.

MS. ROBERTS:  And if you all want to just say a finishing word on that subject, and then we will conclude.

MRS. BUSH:  Well, let me just thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Michelle, and thank you to President Obama for hosting the African Leaders Summit here.  And thank you for inviting the Bush Institute to be a part of the First Lady’s initiative.  Thank you for coming to our First Lady’s Conference last summer as well.

And thanks to all the First Ladies who have joined us.  Thank you for the great work you're already doing in your countries, which we'll hear about in a few minutes.  And thank you for all the good work you will do.

Thanks, Cokie.  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, thank you.  Back at you.  (Laughter.)  But, Laura, no, absolutely.  We are here today because of the example that was set in Tanzania through the summit that the Bush Institute organized.  And as my Chief of Staff stated, that when this summit was being organized, we jumped at the chance to do something similar and to continue this conversation and to come together as first spouses, and to continue to be inspired by each other.

What I would say just in closing is that we have to fight for our girls.  There should never be a girl in this world who has to fear getting educated.  That should be something that is intolerable to all of us.

I can only think of my own girls, and I think we all have to see our daughters in these young girls.  We want the best for our daughters.  We want them to be smart and empowered and loved.  We want them to be healthy.  We want them to be mentally sound.  And if it's good enough for our girls, it's good enough for every single girl in the world.

But it's going to take leadership like us, women like us speaking up in our countries and making sure that young girls are not subject to abuse, and that they are loved and valued.  And until we do that, we will not solve these problems.  Investing in our women -- the people who raise our children, the people who take care of families -- they have to be healthy and whole.  And that is the most important work that we do.  Whether we talk about clean energy or economic empowerment, until we start to value women and girls, we will continue to struggle on this planet.

But I have high hopes when I look around this room that we won’t tolerate that, not anywhere on the planet.  And if we continue to work together and continue to lift up our young people who we’re fighting for a better future, then I think we will see some progress on these issues.

So I look forward to working with all of you in the years ahead.  So thank you all, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.

Cokie, thank you.  Thank you, as well.

MRS. BUSH:  Thank you.  (Applause).

MS. ROBERTS:  Thank you both so much for the work you’re doing, first of all, for coming together.  I keep saying you’ve set such a good example for the men.  (Laughter.)  But also for allowing me to participate in this conversation.  Thank you very, very much.  (Applause.) 

 

 

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