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First Lady Michelle Obama announced a new $70 million partnership with Pakistan yesterday that will help educate and empower more than 200,000 adolescent girls in the developing nation. As part of the White House's new Let Girls Learn initiative, the funding will help build more than a dozen new schools, rehabilitate hundreds of others, and provide scholarships and skills training to help Pakistani girls "fulfill their promise" to become the next generation of doctors, teachers, and leaders in their country. As Obama stated, "This investment represents a major milestone for these girls and for their country… I have passion for this issue because I cannot look into the eyes of young women and not see myself and not see my own daughters, and not want the best for them."

As part of the partnership, the Pakistani government has agreed to double its spending on education from 2 to 4 percent of GDP by 2018, as well as increase the number of female teachers and improve facilities such as ensuring adequate toilets in schools. During yesterday's announcement at the White House, Obama appeared with Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif, the wife of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the couple’s daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif. Holding hands with Obama, Sharif said, "We do it together. The challenges are huge... girl by girl, classroom by classroom, school by school, woman by woman. We shall keep on making a difference. We shall not rest until every girl is learning in school.”


Investing in the education of girls often has huge returns that go well beyond helping the individual, explains Susan Markham, senior coordinator for gender equality and women's empowerment at USAID: "Empowering girls and ensuring them access to quality education has long-term transformational benefits for their future, for their families and communities and for Pakistan's economic prosperity overall." The aim of the Let Girls Learn initiative is to bring attention to the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school and countering the economic and cultural pressures that lead to many girls dropping out ranging from forced marriage to the belief that educating girls is of little value.

At the press conference yesterday, the First Lady stressed that the Pakistan partnership is only the beginning, stating "I want to be clear that today's announcement is actually part of a much bigger story about global girls' education." She has helped recruit the support of other countries for girls' education initiatives, including pledges of over $700 million from the UK, South Korea, and Japan for future projects. For her part, Obama is committed to helping empower girls around the world for the long term: "I plan to continue this work, not just during the remaining time as first lady, but for the rest of my life."

The most famous Pakistani advocate for girls' education is Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai --