Tokyo, March 19: US first lady Michelle Obama and her Japanese counterpart Akie Abe announced plans today to deepen cooperation in helping girls in developing nations finish their educations. Michelle, who in her online travel journal described her trip as a "part of a journey that began decades ago, back when I was a little girl," is visiting Japan and Cambodia, who are among Asia's richest and poorest nations.
As a major aid donor, Japan plans to cooperate with the community-based "Let Girls Learn" initiative recently announced by President Barack Obama and his wife. Today it announced plans to devote 42 billion yen (USD 340 million) over three years to supporting girls' empowerment and gender sensitive education.
Japan and the US also agreed to focus more development assistance on supporting girls' education. The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers will also cooperate with the Peace Corps, which is implementing the Let Girls Learn program.
The program, led by the Peace Corps and other aid organizations, is meant to help get the at least 62 million girls who are unable to attend school back into classes. It is being rolled out in 11 countries, initially, including Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda.
Hundreds of new, grassroots projects meant to facilitate girls' education are planned. The first lady, trained as a lawyer, and Abe, daughter of a confectionary magnate, have made furthering the cause of children and women among their priorities.
Abe is soft spoken but has openly disagreed with her husband, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on some issues, while actively backing his efforts to promote greater gender equality in government and business. Michelle and Abe met with Japanese university students.
The US first lady will also pay a call on Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko and meet with the prime minister. Tomorrow she will visit the ancient capital, Kyoto, before traveling to Cambodia. The "Let Girls Learn" program is global, but White House officials say it also reflects a US commitment to be more involved in the Asia-Pacific region.
Michelle will be the first sitting US first lady to visit Cambodia, whose government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen has been faulted for human rights violations. Child prostitution and human trafficking problems are further threats to young women's well-being.