U.S.-Africa Summit: End Child Marriage To Invest in Next Generation, Urge Advocates

Article Date

07 August 2014

Article Author

Megan Kallstrom

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Against the backdrop of this week’s U.S.-Africa Summit and in line with its theme of investing in the next generation, on Tuesday, ICRW partnered with Girls Not Brides USA, Human Rights Watch and the International Women’s Health Coalition to hold a side event calling on U.S. and African leaders to end child, early and forced marriage (CEFM).

The event opened with remarks by Kathy Calvin, the President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation, and Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy for the International Women’s Health Coalition, with video remarks by the African Union Child Marriage Ambassador and World YWCA Secretary, Nyradzayi Gumbonzwanda. Panelists included: Dorothy Aken’Ova, Executive Director of the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights (INCRESE), Nigeria; Allison Glinski, Gender and Development Specialist at the International Center for Research on Women; Amanda Klasing, Women’s Rights Researcher for Human Rights Watch; Oyindamola Oluwaseun Fagbenle Oyin, Legal Practitioner and Women’s Rights Advocate, Nigeria; and Behailu Teklehaimanot Weldeyohannes, Law Professor and Vice-Director of the Legal Aid Center at Jimma University, Ethiopia. The panel was moderated by Milkah Kihunah, Senior Policy Adviser at CARE and representative from Girls Not Brides USA, and closing remarks were given by Gloria Samen, Girl Up Teen Advisor.

ICRW’s Allison Glinski discussed the successes of ICRW’s programs related to ending child marriage and presented ICRW’s recent policy brief highlighting five evidence-based strategies identified by ICRW to delay or prevent child marriage. Glinski also spoke of the importance of organizations collaborating on programs to help end CEFM, and recalled her own experience interviewing girls who had participated in Population Council’s Ishraq program. “For the first time,” Glinski recalled, “girls were saying, ‘I’m a person. I can have my own thoughts.’”

Other panelists shared their thoughts on the consequences of CEFM on individual girls and broader communities alike, as well as ways to end the practice. Kathy Calvin spoke of the momentum the issue currently has, thanks to events such as the Girl Summit. Although people had once written off CEFM has a tradition that simply happens, “as people begin to recognize the value of investing in girls,” Calvin noted, “this goal could be achieved.”

Nyradzayi Gumbonzwanda, in her video remarks, explained that ending CEFM is not simply about ending the tradition in and of itself, but rather combating the practice’s negative economic, political, security, and health consequences that continue to mire not only girls and women, but also whole families and communities, in poverty and violence. “Put girls at the center,” said Gumbonzwanda. “It is the investment of a lifetime for us to be able to end child marriage.”

The event closed with powerful remarks by 18-year-old Gloria Samen. Samen spoke of how her childhood would have been different had she grown up in Cameroon, where her parents are from, instead of the U.S. Contrasting sharply with her imagined experience in Cameroon, in the U.S., she had the chance to attend good schools, and “I’m not expected to marry any time soon,” Samen said. “I have the chance to just be a girl.” Samen is eager to ensure that every girl has such a chance, too. “We have the right to determine our destiny and our future,” Samen said. “I envision a world where no girl is invisible.”

Support ICRW’s work to improve the lives of women and girls around the world through the #OperationGirl Challenge.