Michelle Obama Enlists A-List Singers to Fund Girls’ Education

The first lady used her time at South by Southwest to encourage Americans to turn awareness into action.

First Lady Michelle Obama gives a keynote speech at the SXSW 2016 Music, Film and Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 16 in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Mar 16, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Don’t give up. Speak your mind. Don’t doubt yourself. That’s the message in the new female empowerment anthem “This Is for My Girls”—made all the more awe-inspiring by featuring top singers Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monáe, Kelly Rowland, Missy Elliot, and Zendaya.

While the lyrics foster girl power, the proceeds from the song—available exclusively on iTunes—will benefit First Lady Michelle Obama’s education initiative "Let Girls Learn."

“It’s just a sign of what a group of women can do together,” Obama said of the song during a panel at South by Southwest on Wednesday. “We can change the world, and we can have an impact on these girls." Obama worked with songwriter Diane Warren—who wrote Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me," among other hits—to recruit female voices and craft a catchy song they hope will bring in lots of cash.

Warren, actor Sophia Bush, and rapper Missy Elliott joined the first lady on a panel moderated by Queen Latifah to talk about music, education, and what inspires them to take action.

Obama said she felt pushed to make change happen after hearing countless stories of inequity around the world, particularly when it comes to schooling. “For me, 62 million girls not getting an education—that’s personal,” Obama said.

Many of the 62 million girls who are not in school are missing out on an education because they cannot afford tuition fees or because they’re forced to take on household duties rather than attend school. While boys also face barriers to secondary education, their schooling is often prioritized over that of female children.

“There are cultural norms that keep [girls] down,” Obama said at the panel. She expounded on those values in Wednesday’s issue of Lena Dunham’s newsletter, Lenny Letter. “[It’s] about attitudes and beliefs: the belief that girls should be valued for their bodies, not their minds; the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education, and their best chance in life is to be married off,” Obama wrote.

"Let Girls Learn" focuses on community-led solutions that help break down cultural and economic barriers to girls’ education worldwide. Over the past year, the first lady has spoken at schools and pop culture events around the globe to spread awareness about the benefits of girls’ education. Each additional year of schooling can boost a woman’s salary by 20 percent once she enters the job market, according to the campaign’s figures. That extra income helps women better support their families and stimulate economic growth in their communities.

After a year of raising awareness, Obama is ready to move on to the second phase of the initiative. “[I’m] calling on people not just to care about this issue, but to do something about it,” Obama wrote in Lenny Letter.

The website offers fund-raising options such as organizing a fun run, hosting a battle of the bands—or downloading “This Is for My Girls.”