Michelle Obama at the White House. (Reuters)
Washington, May 10: In a rare venture into foreign policy, Michelle Obama today condemned the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by terrorists and said that she and President Obama had been personally touched by what she called an “unconscionable” act.
“In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters,” the First Lady said in the weekly radio address that is normally delivered by her husband. “We see their hopes, their dreams — and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”
Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist network, has claimed responsibility for abducting 276 girls from a school last month. The taking of the girls and concern about their fate has prompted nations around the world to offer help to the Nigerian government of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Obama said last week that he had ordered a team of military intelligence specialists and hostage negotiators to Nigeria to help in the search.
The kidnapping of the girls has prompted a viral Internet campaign on their behalf, with people around the world taking to Twitter and other social media to demand the return of the girls to their families. Michelle Obama posted a sombre-looking picture of herself on Twitter, holding a piece of paper with “#BringBackOurGirls” written on it.
In the radio address, Michelle Obama said she wanted to use Mother’s Day to draw even more attention to the kidnappings.
“Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night,” Michelle Obama said. “This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education — grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.”
Michelle Obama has typically stayed away from foreign policy issues and has focused most of her official activities as First Lady on issues like reducing childhood obesity and programmes to help support members of the armed services and their families.
She recently toured China without her husband and used the trip to offer some political messages about free expression and minority rights. Michelle Obama said today that the abduction of the girls in Nigeria was not an isolated case of terrorism but part of a pattern of abuse directed at girls across the globe.
“It’s a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions,” she said, referring to the case of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl in Pakistan who became an advocate for educating women and was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman on a school bus. Yousafzai survived the gunshot and continues to advocate the education of girls around the world.
Michelle Obama said the courage of Yousafzai should serve as a “call to action” for Americans to value a quality education in the US. She said she hoped the captured Nigerian schoolchildren would inspire Americans to stand up for girls “not just in times of tragedy or crisis, but for the long haul”.