Michelle Obama: Empowered Women, Empower Women
Updated: Feb 16
Michelle Obama — The first African American first lady of the United States, and a role model to many.
As Black History Month begins, it is crucial to remember not only past figures but contemporary figures who have contributed to African American communities and other underprivileged communities alike. Michelle Obama, in particular, went above and beyond her responsibility to Americans as First Lady, but also used the privilege of her position to impact the lives of those in the Global South.
Michelle Obama was more than just First Lady -- she is an extremely educated and accomplished woman (with two degrees from Ivy League universities and work experience as a lawyer) who has held her own. She actively promoted initiatives within the United States and abroad. For example, to help healthy eating and address an increasing obesity problem within the United States, Obama developed nutrition programs for schools across the country. She also improved access to healthier food by working together with large restaurant chains such as Olive Garden, and grocery chains such as Walmart and Walgreens. Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic not only in the United States but across the world, and Obama brought much-needed attention to such (Lee 2017).
Obama’s primary passion as First Lady was to promote education and literacy, particularly for younger girls. According to Obama, “educating girls isn’t just good for the girls; it’s good for all of us.” Statistically speaking, girls who achieve a secondary school education have higher salaries, lower infant and maternal mortality rates, and less likely to contract HIV and malaria (Obama 2018).
The issue of education is particularly important and has far-reaching impacts. Not to mention, the fight for education is not only prevalent in the Global South but also developed countries themselves. Obama recognized this. Quality education is one of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Improvements in education directly lead to an increased quality of life and equip individuals with the tools needed to solve the world’s most significant problems of right now (United Nations). More than 265 million children are currently out of school, with 22% of those kids being of primary school age. Achieving universal quality education requires investment in educational scholarships, teacher training workshops, school building, and improvement of conditions within schools (ex. access to water and electricity) (United Nations).
In response to this issue, Obama created the Global Girls Alliance to empower women across the world. The Global Girls Alliance supports about 1,500 education groups around the world. They offer to fund on-the-ground organizations, training, technical support, as well as networking opportunities (Heil 2018).
She declared, as the goal of the Global Girls Alliance, to uplift Grassroot leaders and communities all over the world, and to clear the hurdles that many girls face (Obama 2018).
Obama’s actions have certainly made an impact; however, what is less tangible but still meaningful is her importance as a role model for millions of black women across the globe. Traditionally, black women are discouraged from speaking up, being too loud, or taking up too much space. However, Obama stood her ground, despite experiencing racism and sexism throughout her term.
Her story is an example of how we must not let our circumstances define who we become, and the potentials of what we may achieve. In a world where black female role models are scarce, Obama’s legacy is significant and empowering. Just by being in office, the Obamas have created exceptional opportunities for many by being “different” people at the forefront of leadership (Lee 2017).
Obama is just one example of the power a black woman holds and the impact she can have on others around her.
Heil, Emily. “Michelle Obama Launches Global Girls Initiative to 'Lift up' Organizations.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Oct. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/reliable-source/wp/2018/10/11/michelle-obama-launches-global-girls-initiative-to-lift-up-organizations/.
“Education - United Nations Sustainable Development.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/.
Lee, Bruce. “10 Ways Michelle Obama Promoted Physical And Mental Health As First Lady.” Forbes, 15 Jan. 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2017/01/15/michelle-obamas-top-10-accomplishments-as-first-lady/#278e6f5b1889
Obama, Michelle. “Michelle Obama: Educate Every Girl.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 Oct. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/10/11/opinions/international-day-of-the-girl-michelle-obama/index.html