Queen Rania's speech at Let Girls Learn - NY, USA

September 19, 2016

Thank you, Stephen.

This is what Margaret Mead meant when she said: “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world…”

And they don’t come more committed than Michelle Obama. Thank you for bringing us together, Michelle…and for helping to keep girls’ education in the global spotlight. 

It’s a cause that’s as close to my heart as it is to yours. Partly because we’re both proud moms to strong, smart and beautiful girls – and there is a hundred more like them here today! And, partly, because I come from a region where we can’t take education for granted. 

Some of you here may not know much about my region. If I was to ask you what you know about the Middle East, you’d probably say: violence…war …and terrorism – and with good reason.

One of the major casualties of those conflicts is education…
Today, more than 13 million children – half of them, girls – are shut out of schools.

    The challenges vary from country to country. For girls in Yemen, schools could be shelled while they study; their classmates killed. Girls in South Sudan live with the threat of kidnapping -- in school. And for girls in Syria, fear drives them to desperation -- abandoning classes…running through the night…to an unknown and uncertain future. 

    I cannot remember a bleaker, or more heartbreaking time in my region.

But let me tell you what gives me hope.

Our girls… Many of whom, by the way, are much like girls here in the US. They play soccer; they hunt Pokémon; they listen to Selena Gomez; and they take selfies – boy, do they take selfies!

What gives me hope is that - despite the traumas they’ve been through - so many girls in my region refuse to let conflict define their lives. Rather, they defy it. With guts and grit. They don’t want our pity; but they deserve our admiration – and they need our support.

Because out of the ashes of conflict, many of our brave girls are rising. They’re not giving up. They’re not giving in. They’re reaching for the stars – and they’re pulling others up.

    15 year old Fatima is a Syrian girl living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Abandoning her home, her friends and everything she owned, she ran for her life. Losing several semesters of schooling, didn’t break her spirit; instead, it made her hold on tighter to education. When she noticed that many girls in the refugee camp were dropping out of school to get married, Fatima went straight to their parents and gave them lessons on why it was crucial that they let their girls learn. 
Because Fatima knows that education endures. Rich or poor, in conflict or in peace, no one can take your education away from you. Friends will come and go; one day you are ‘in’, the next you are not; jobs will change; trends will vary. But education stays deep inside. And when the power of education is within you, then everything is within your power.

This wisdom is shared by another inspiring girl -- a 10 year old Jordanian called Bushra. In Arabic, her name means ‘good news’. And she certainly is good news for Aya, a Syrian refugee who missed years of school. Instead of being in 8th grade, Aya was in 5th grade. And even there, she struggled with her lessons.
So, Bushra helped her. She coached Aya after school for months, prepared with her for exams, and guess what? Aya excelled in 5th grade last year. Her grades weren’t the only thing to blossom – so did a friendship. 

    I call this the ‘reverse domino effect’…where one woman, or girl, lifts another up and passes on her gift of strength. So that one by one, women and girls, the world over, stand tall and strong, together. 

Think about what would happen if each of us – and every woman we know, and every girl she knows – pulled up another and helped her, in some small way, to realize her right to learn. 

A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens could change the world. 

So, let’s pull together. Let’s be the women – or the girls -- who lift others up. 

Like Fatima. Like Bushra. Like Michelle. 

Thank you