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Presidents’ wives press for girls’ education

Michelle Obama and Laura Bush hosted a symposium for spouses of African leaders in Washington.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Michelle Obama and Laura Bush hosted a symposium for spouses of African leaders in Washington.

WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, presidents’ wives from different generations and opposing political parties, spoke with one voice Wednesday on the importance of educating women and girls worldwide, saying countries would be more prosperous as a result.

‘‘You have to change attitudes before you can change behaviors,’’ Obama said.

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She noted that some 60 million girls, including 30 million in sub-Saharan Africa, do not attend school. She also 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,’’ Bush said.

Obama and Bush, the wife of President George W. Bush, made their comments as they opened a program for more than two dozen spouses of the African officials who were participating in the third and final day of President Obama’s US-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 wife of the president.

The joint appearance also put on rare public display the warm relationship that has developed between them since the change of power at the White House.

Laura Bush ‘‘set a high bar for me during her time in the White House’’ and has long been a source of inspiration, Michelle Obama said.

‘‘I consider her not just a role model but also a friend,’’ she said.

Between serious talk about education and how to keep their projects alive after leaving the White House, the women joked about White House life.

Former president George W. Bush’s institute organized the gathering of African presidents’ wives last July, and invited Obama to participate after learning that she and her husband would be in Tanzania at the same time.

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