By Gabe Joselow – DAR ES SALAM, TANZANIA — U.S. first lady Michelle Obama joined forces with her predecessor Laura Bush at a summit Tuesday in Tanzania to promote investment in women. The conversation soon turned to talk about the unique power and challenges that come with being the wife of the president.
In her opening address in Dar es Salaam Tuesday, Bush said promoting the roles of women helps countries to become more prosperous and stable.
“We’re highlighting support for women at this summit because at all levels and in all parts of society, women play a critical role,” Laura Bush said.
The first ladies of Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania were in attendance at the meeting which is looking at ways to empower women economically and socially by providing better access to health, education and financial services.
In a moderated conversation, Obama said she knows first-hand the power of education.
“I was a girl who grew up on the south side of Chicago. My parents didn’t have much money, but they invested in my education,” Michelle Obama explained. “And they invested in my education as equally as they did my brother, there was no different bar. And as a result of that training and preparation I have had opportunities, and I am sitting here right now as the first lady of the United States of America because of education.”
As the two leading ladies dwelled on the opportunities that come with the position, they also noted they face the same challenges as other women in the United States.
Bush said too often the press just wants to focus on how a first lady looks, sending the wrong message to the nation’s youth.
“And that’s a problem everywhere in the United States for girls as well. The way you look. Girls worry about all sorts of problems that they should not have to worry about. They should be worried about what they’re doing and how they’re being educated instead of whether they look pretty or they look sexy,” Bush noted.
Of course, as the wives of presidents, Obama said they also know that even those men, as powerful as they may be, are only human.
“I love my husband, but sometimes when he has like five things to do at one time, it’s funny to watch it, ‘You don’t know where your jacket is right now, can’t find that shoe, Mr. President,” she joked.
Dar es Salaam has become an unlikely meeting spot for the two first families of the United States, who operate on different sides of the political spectrum.
President Barack Obama and George W. Bush also joined together Tuesday morning for a memorial ceremony at the site of the former U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, bombed in a terrorist attack in 1998.
The country of Tanzania is the last official stop on Obama’s three-nation tour of Africa.