Michelle Obama in Morocco to launch girls’ fund


US First Lady Michelle Obama launched a $100 million aid package in Morocco Tuesday to promote the education of girls in a country where half of females over 15 are illiterate.

Visiting Marakech with actresses Meryl Streep and Frieda Pinto of the “Slumdog Millionaire” film, she told girls in attendance she wanted them to be part of a global conversation on female education.

“We want to share this conversation with young girls around the world, particularly in the United States,” she said.

Obama, who was accompanied by her daughters Malia and Sasha, arrived on Monday evening in Marakech and was welcomed by King Mohamed VI.

The first lady launched her “Let Girls Learn” education initiative in March 2015 to help adolescent girls across the world access a quality education.

She has since travelled the globe to call for greater support for the millions of girls kept away from school or forced to abandon their studies.

“She shared lots of things with us that will help us to work hard and focus on our education,” Rihab Boutadghart, a beneficiary of the initiative, said after attending the launch in Marakech.

Morocco has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world, according to the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US government aid agency.

The MCC used Obama’s visit to announce a nearly $100-million (90 million euros) fund to tackle high drop-out rates among girls and make schools more “girl-friendly”.

The money, which will fund internships, girl-friendly bathrooms and training for teachers, is expected to benefit about 100,000 students, said the MCC.

The Peace Corps said it would work with its volunteers and community leaders to advance girls’ education and improve their employment prospects.

USAID pledged to spend $400,000 through an NGO to establish five new dorms for girls across the country.

Obama said she hoped the funds would “help these girls succeed in the workforce and fulfil their boundless promise”.

Over half of Moroccan girls aged over 15 are illiterate, despite efforts by the government and NGOs to promote their education, according to a 2014 study by the High Commission for Planning, a government body.

But the same study said the rate of school attendance among girls of 7-12 years old had risen from 78 percent in 2004 to 94 percent in 2014.

Obama says girls around the world face challenges that prevent more than 62 million from getting an education.

The first lady spent Monday in Liberia, where she told girls to fight to stay in school despite financial pressures that cause the vast majority to drop out.

She will continue her trip with a visit to Spain on Thursday, where she will deliver a speech on the education initiative before meeting Queen Letizia.