16 activists who tackle child marriage every day
By Ettie Bailey-King on Monday 10th Dec 2018
To celebrate 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, we caught up with some inspiring girls, women and men who are working to end child marriage around the world.
Nada al-Ahdal, Yemen
“I’m not an item for sale, I’m a human being.” Nada refused child marriage twice, sharing her powerful message against child marriage with the world, via YouTube. Now she supports girls’ human rights in Yemen through her own foundation, Nada fund.
“My parents wanted me to get married when my two elder sisters were getting married. I was scared. I decided I didn’t want the wedding. I wanted to study and accomplish my dreams and live a life of personal freedom. So I refused to marry.” Now in her early 20s, Radhika became a community activist against child marriage after she was told she would marry aged 17. Both Radika’s mother and grandmother were child brides so this was not a custom easily broken. But, through the sheer force of her personality, Radhika persuaded her father and grandfather to keep her in education and break off the engagement. Now she works as a warden at a school campus teaching other girls about the importance of staying with their studies.
Taban Shoresh, Kurdistan, Iraq
"I wish I knew everything I know now when I was younger. I want other girls to have access to knowledge, inspiration & access to opportunities so they are informed to make decisions." Taban Shoresh grew up under Saddam Hussein’s oppression in Kurdistan. She was imprisoned at the age of four, and narrowly escaped being buried alive with her family. In 2016, she founded The Lotus Flower to support women and girls affected by conflict and displacement. In their Women and Girl community centres, the Lotus Flower runs awareness sessions on the impact of child marriage and encourages girls and women to achieve their full potential.
Perla Vázquez, Mexico
“All women and girls should decide if they want to have sexual or loving relationships that are free, pleasant and without violence. Not to be just mothers and wives but to be free, happy and crazy.” At 16, Perla became a feminist activist. Now she helps to prevent early unions as part of her work with Central America & Mexico Youth (CAMY) Fund. Her inspiring words lift us up and remind us how we can build a better world.
Nice Nailentei Leng’ete, Kenya
“My hope is that every young girl can become the woman of her dreams. That all young girls and women, wherever they live in the world, will be seen as human beings first, and then as women." Nice was just eight years old when she ran away from her home in the village of Noomayianat to avoid having to undergo FGM/C. When she was caught, Nice endured beatings and faced social stigma – but she persisted, and eventually convinced her grandfather, a Maasai elder, to allow her to escape ‘the cut’ and continue her schooling. Today, 27-year-old Nice works with communities like hers to eliminate FGM/C and replace it with ‘Alternative Rites of Passage’ (ARP) ceremonies that allow communities to celebrate girls’ transition to womanhood without causing them harm.
Saykal Zhumaliyeva, Kyrgyzstan
"I turned my thoughts and feelings into a video, not only to make you laugh but also to think: is it necessary to drive ambitious and energetic girls into marriage?" 21-year-old Saykal Zhumaliyeva from Bishkek is in no rush to get married. Fed up of constant pressure to become a wife at such a young age, she parodied marriage in an Instagram video that shot her to internet fame.
“Girls in the camp face so many problems. Some were married before they came here, and had children when they were still young. Others were forced to get married to get food and shelter. A lot of girls get pregnant early. Some die during dangerous abortions … If we can tell those girls their rights - if they know that they have power - they will not get married and they will look for other options in life.” Neema fled her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was 16, after conflict broke out. Amid the chaos of the sudden conflict, she was separated from her parents, and arrived at Dzaleka Refugee camp in Malawi alone. She was living with a guardian family until they tried to force her into marriage. With support from Girls Not Brides member organisation SOFERES, she avoided child marriage. Now she volunteers as an advocate for SOFERES, helping to educate parents and communities about the dangers of child marriage. She has helped many girls escape forced marriage, just as she was helped.
Eugenia Lopez-Uribe, Mexico
“I work for a world where girls and women are free to be whoever they want to be, without discrimination, coercion and violence.” Meet Eugenia Lopez Uribe. She's a queer feminist who has worked on human rights, sexual rights, HIV and reproductive rights of women and youth in rural and urban marginalized areas for over 20 years. Eugenia now advocates against child marriage and leads Girls Not Brides activity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Ghida Anani, Lebanon
“As a young girl, I never had tolerance for injustice…I believe that the rage I held deep in my heart towards human suffering and pain was the seed of a prevailing energy that, with life deceptions, failures and experience, was transformed into fierce compassion and an unstoppable battle for gender equality and non-violence.” As Founder and Director of ABAAD – Resource Center for Gender Equality,, Ghida is empowering women & girls and helping create a more equal society, across Lebanon and beyond.
Arvind Ohja, India
"We don’t just focus on engaging women and children in programmes but also older people and even religious leaders. Change is happening. The average age of marriage for girls is increasing." Arvind campaigns against child marriage in with his organisation, URMUL Trust. He has been working in western Rajasthan for over 32 years. The state has one of the worst child marriage rates in India - only behind Bihar and West Bengal.
Petrider Paul, Tanzania
“We made a banner and marched through the village, telling people why child marriage needs to stop.” Suci (centre) has been leading a protest against child marriage with the help of her friends and a big megaphone. At 18-years-old she’s already tackling social norms in her community.
Fatoumata Sabaly, Senegal
“Sometimes girls come to tell me their parents are marrying them off, even though they want to stay in school. When this happens, I go to their parents. Out of respect for me, the parents listen to my advice and let their daughters stay in school.” As a grandmother and mother of 12 children, Fatoumata is a respected and powerful voice for change in her community. Fatoumata works with Grandmother Project - an organisation that works with grandmothers to improve the health and wellbeing of women and children. Through her work, Fatoumata inspires families to keep girls in school and girls to believe in themselves and their future choices.
Isatou Jeng, The Gambia
“I stood my ground, refused to marry, and saw education as the best chance for a better life for me and my child.” At 15, Isatou became pregnant. Despite heavy pressure to get married, she stood firm. She knew that child marriage couldn’t give her the future she dreamed of. As a founding member of youth movement “The Girls Agenda”, she’s turning girls lives around. Bringing role models, mentors and education into communities, they help to change attitudes so every girl can have a brighter future.
Preeti Yadav, India
“In my career, I have stopped several weddings. When I come into contact with these girls we often stay in touch forever. I feel real pride that I am able to help them salvage their lives and protect their futures. It makes me feel happy.” 31-year-old Preeti is a voice of comfort for countless girls. She answers calls to Urmul Rural Health Research and Development Trust's helpline, day and night. She gives them support, guidance, and a way to take back control over their lives.
Veronica Buch, Guatemala
“I want to see a future where girls and teenagers are studying and staying in school and raising their voices. Where girls are developing their full potential to make assertive decisions and discovering and developing their skills.” Veronica Buch is a passionate advocate for the rights and potential of adolescent girls. She works with Rise Up in Guatemala to empower girls to choose their own future.
About the Author: Ettie Bailey-King
1st Dec 2017
2nd Dec 2014