WASHINGTON -- Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, first ladies from different generations and opposing political parties, spoke with one voice Wednesday on the importance of educating women and girls worldwide, saying countries will be more prosperous as a result.
"You have to change attitudes before you can change behaviors," Mrs. Obama said.
She noted that some 60 million girls, including 30 million in sub-Saharan Africa, do not attend school. The first lady said that until global leaders understand that educating girls is as important as educating boys, "then we will have a lot of work to do."
"We do need to make sure worldwide that all women are valued," added Mrs. Bush.
The current and former first lady commented as they opened a program for more than two dozen spouses of the African officials who are participating in the third and final day of President Barack Obama's U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
They reprised an event they held in Tanzania last summer, focusing on meeting the needs of women and girls and sharing some of their experiences in the high-profile role of first lady.
The joint appearance also put on rare public display the warm relationship that has developed between the two since the change of power at the White House.
Mrs. Bush "set a high bar for me during her time in the White House" and has long been a source of inspiration, Mrs. Obama said.
"I consider her not just a role model but also a friend," the first lady said.
Between serious talk about education and how to keep their projects alive after leaving the White House, the two women also showed flashes of humor as they joked about White House life.
Former President George W. Bush's institute organized the July 2013 gathering of African first ladies and invited Mrs. Obama to participate after learning that she and her husband would be in Tanzania at the same time.
After Obama decided to hold a U.S. summit with African leaders, Obama aides reached out and proposed a repeat collaboration with Mrs. Bush.
Wednesday's program highlighted the role of first spouses and focused on public-private partnerships and investments in education, health and economic development.