She helped cap three days of speakers and events at the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders summit.
President Barack Obama,Secretary of State John Kerry,members of Congress and ambassadors spoke to the group to the group Monday and Tuesday.
Like the president,the first lady spoke mainly about improving girls’ education and gender equality in Africa.
The inaugural summit,which will be renamed the Mandela Washington Fellowship,brought young adult leaders from across Africa to Washington for several days of meetings. They will spend the rest of the summer at universities around the country.
In front of an audience of 500 young African fellows,the first lady reiterated the president’s remarks about altering the traditions that are still prevalent,including “genital cutting,and forced child marriage.”
“They are serious human rights violations and have no place in any country on this Earth,” she said. “We all know that our future lies in our people – in their talent,their ambition,their drive. And no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women.”
Though the first lady’s remarks were pivotal in denouncing domestic violence among women,much of her speech was similar to the president’s,perhaps to emphasize its importance.
For example,both the president and the first lady said that men are crucial to solving the gender equality problem.
The president said that “men have to be just as committed to empowering women as the women are.” The first lady said,“Women are fighting these battles alone,but progressive men who are already ahead of the curve on women’s issues … are critically important to solving this problem.”
Even more similarly,referring to men who hold onto old traditions,the first lady said,“tell them that a truly strong,powerful man isn’t threatened by a strong,powerful woman.” Two days earlier,the president said,“If you’re a strong man,you should not feel threatened by a strong woman.”
The first lady focused largely on the issue of oppression and women’s rights in Africa,while the president touched on other topics dealing with Africa,including starvation and disease and unemployment.
The first lady also pushed for education for women,saying that leadership isn’t just about “holding degrees or holding elected offices” or “continuing traditions that oppress.”
“Leadership is about creating new traditions that honor the dignity and humanity of every individual,” she said. “Leadership is about empowering all of our people – men,women,boys and girls – to fulfill every last bit of their God-given potential. And when we commit to that kind of leadership across the globe,that is when we truly start making progress on girls’ education.”
After her remarks,the first lady had a closed meeting with 40 of the young leaders from the audience in a roundtable.
The first lady will also speak at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week,which the president said will feature almost 50 presidents and prime ministers from all over Africa.
Samantha Power,the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations closed out the three-day summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
Reach reporter Xander Zellner at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.