AFP

SIEM REAP

Michelle Obama called on schoolgirls to stay in school to push for equality and hold their leaders accountable on Saturday during the first trip by a sitting US president’s wife to Cambodia.

The First Lady is visiting Cambodia - ruled by strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen for the last thirty years - to highlight what she has described as a ‘crisis’ in women’s education with 62 million girls around the world denied schooling, primarily for economic or cultural reasons. ‘When girls get educated, when they learn to read and write and think, that gives them the tools to speak up and talk about injustice and demand equal treatment,’ she said in a speech to Peace Corps volunteers in Siem Reap. ‘It helps them participate in the political life of their country and hold their leaders accountable,’ she added. Earlier in the day Obama - herself a Harvard-educated lawyer from a modest background - visited a school with the Cambodian premier’s wife Bun Rany to hear first hand from schoolgirls about the problems they face accessing education. The pair were greeted by students dressed in crisp black and white uniforms who waved Cambodian and US flags, greeting the First Lady in carefully practised English. Some of the students described the difficulties they had staying in school, faced with long journeys to class and pressure from their families to find work or complete household chores.