Michelle Obama has said that the “devaluation of women” is behind the changes to reproductive rights in the US.

The former US first lady and human rights campaigner Amal Clooney made this year’s BBC 100 Women list, which celebrates inspirational and influential women from around the world.

The humanitarians spoke alongside Melinda French Gates to BBC World Service gender and identity correspondent Megha Mohan about combating child marriage.

When asked what she would say to people who see child marriage abroad as not their problem, Ms Obama said: “Disinvestment in women and girls is all of our issue, and it impacts us.

“In the United States, we are dealing with a rollback in reproductive rights, things that people thought they could take for granted, things that my girls thought that they could take for granted that they would have the choice over their own reproductive health.

“That has been rolled back and a lot of it is because of the devaluation of women, the belief that women don’t have choice and power over their own being.”

A 2022 decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade case, which legalised abortion across the US, has seen the rollback of reproductive rights in some US states.

Ms Obama, along with Ms Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ms Clooney, a high-profile barrister and wife of Hollywood star George Clooney, is in Malawi to do field research into child marriage.

The wife of former US president Barack Obama said: “When a 10-year-old is sold off to an older man because her family is poor, it’s the same mentality (as the US), it’s the same carelessness, the same selfishness, the same greed and thoughtlessness that exists everywhere.

“So you can’t just turn a blind eye to it because it’s not happening in your own backyard, because eventually that kind of attitude, it has a way of slipping and growing and feeding into all aspects of how we live as a humanity, as a human species.

“It affects our humanity. So we all have to care. That’s what I would say.”

World premiere of Ticket to Paradise
Amal Clooney and her husband George Clooney (Ian West/PA)

Ms Clooney said the UN Security Council and “powerful governments are not delivering” on addressing issues to prevent bad behaviour towards women and girls.

She also said: “It’s about unshackling half the population in every country, so if you want to make progress in human rights you have to start with the rights of girls, and child marriage in particular is the root cause of so many of the biggest problems that we see.

“Because if a girl is married off at 12 or 13, and we met many of them who have been, she’s more likely not to graduate from high school, she’s more likely not to get a job and be economically independent, she’s more likely to suffer violence, and she’s more likely to have health issues, including unsafe pregnancies.

“So if you are able to tackle that, you’re also going to have a knock-on effect… in all of these other areas.”

Wimbledon 2022 – Day Twelve – All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
Melinda French Gates (Adam Davy/PA)

Ms Gates, who studied computer science and is the former wife of technology entrepreneur Bill Gates, said that arguments to world leaders need to be made by using data.

She said: “If I go into a president or prime minister’s office and he has daughters, believe me, I talk about his daughters and quite often they’re educating their own daughters but then you have to get them to think well, what would be the barriers if you did this other thing, or it was looked at in this way.

“So you have to make the humanitarian argument, but often to really get them to act, it is the numbers that move them.”