Michelle Obama arrived Monday in Qatar on the opening stage of her very first regional tour without President Obama. She is expected to call for addressing "cultural beliefs" obstructing girls' education.
The US first lady is set to speak at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) on Wednesday, as part of her well-publicised efforts to promote girls’ education globally.
Obama will speak to an audience of education leaders from the region at the conference, which will also be addressed by Qatar’s former first lady, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.
“We cannot address our girls’ education crisis until we address the broader cultural beliefs and practices that can help cause and perpetuate this crisis,” Obama wrote in an essay appearing on the Atlantic magazine’s website on the eve of her trip.
“That is precisely the message I intend to deliver this week when I travel to the Middle East,” she wrote.
“I’ll be urging countries around the world to both make new investments in girls’ education and challenge laws and practices that silence, demean, and brutalise women — from female genital mutilation and cutting, to forced child marriage, to laws that allow marital rape and disadvantage women in the workplace.”
In an email she wrote ahead of her trip, Obama said that 62 million girls across the globe are not going to school at all, urging support for the “Let Girls Learn” initiative which she launched with President Barack Obama earlier this year.
“Imagine being told, at the age of 12 or 13, “That’s it, you’re done with school. You’ve gotten all the education you’re ever going to get,” she wrote.
“Pretty awful, right? And I don’t think any young person should ever have to give up their dreams like this. I think every child on this planet — boys and girls — should be able to get an education,” she added.
During her visit to Qatar, she will also visit American military service personnel at the Al Udeid air base, the forward headquarters for the US Central Command.
The base is used as a hub by the US military for its air strikes against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria and Iraq.
At the base she will be accompanied by US late-night television host Conan O’ Brien.
The week-long trip will also see the first lady visit Jordan.
There, she is expected to visit a girls’ school in the Jordanian capital, Amman, built with US aid funds.