In the digital era, child marriage activists are driving change in new and innovative ways: using the power of the internet to reach ever-wider audiences and collaborate across the globe. COVID-19 accelerated our use of digital platforms for learning and connecting, changing the landscape of collective action, campaigning and advocacy. As the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl (IDG) on 11 October 2021, we were excited to explore lessons shared by Girls Not Brides member organisations on this year’s theme: ‘Digital Generation. Our Generation’.
1. The time is NOW to amplify efforts to end child marriage through digital advocacy
This IDG, Girls Not Brides’ members harnessed a huge variety of platforms to amplify the voices of girls and young people, ensuring their interests are at the heart of efforts to end child marriage. From Facebook events, Zoom meetings and social media engagement, our members brought online communities together to say ‘no’ to child marriage.
In one exciting example, Girls Not Brides Uganda hosted child marriage awareness-raising activities to emphasise the importance of a girl-centred and inclusive response to COVID-19 and to call for Power To Girls as part of our flagship campaign this year.
Another member in India, Milaan Foundation, organised the Girls Icon Leadership Summit. Bringing together the voices of over 1,000 girls and sector leaders, the online event called for collective action to address gender-based violence and child marriage and to improve girls’ access to technology and education.
While COVID-19 continues to present many barriers to girls accessing their rights, the uplift in digital activism as a result does mean that campaigners are now able to connect online in ways that they may never have before.
2. Traditional organising and collective action still play a significant role for those facing the digital divide
Digital platforms are transforming work to end child marriage, however traditional approaches to activism continue to be important. UNICEF estimates that globally 2.2 billion people under the age of 25 do not have internet access at home – with girls more likely to be affected.
To be inclusive of those facing the digital barrier, civil society, decision makers and activists must continue to incorporate offline approaches to address the realities girls face in different contexts.
For this year’s IDG, our members engaged girls, communities, governments and parents using offline tools, demonstrating that we can still reach the audiences we need to despite the digital divide. For example, our National Partnership in Mozambique organised a television debate to mark the day and explore the country’s implementation of a national strategy to end child marriage.
Girls Not Brides members Pratigya, Blue Veins and SOJFEP excitingly used IDG as an opportunity to launch their own Power to Girls campaign activities. Pratigya, for example, worked directly with the Ministry of Women and Child Development to directly urge government officials to act to address child marriage. They raised their voices as part of our global campaign to call on those with the power to end child marriage to act now.
3. Inclusivity in action: Investment is needed to ensure digital access for all
There are real challenges to reaching a wide diversity of voices in online spaces. Afia Simpande, Athena WGW Focal Point, Zambia pointed out in an Instagram Live held by Girls Not Brides to mark IDG that “girls continue to face barriers to accessing digital spaces and data. This is particularly the case in areas with high illiteracy levels and for girls living with disabilities.”
To make sure that everyone – no matter their background – can participate in online spaces, we need investment in education and holistic programmes to address girls’ needs. Afia added: “We need to ensure the meaningful participation and engagement of adolescent girls and young women in online spaces – and beyond. We must ensure that their voices are meaningfully heard and what they say is considered.”
4. We are stronger together
On our own, it may feel like we don’t have the power to create change. But every individual action counts towards a multitude of voices calling for action.
“The Power to Girls campaign is a really good way to collectively organise the global Partnership under one umbrella,” Eyleen Theresa Menchu, a youth leader with the Let Girls Lead Network in Guatemala, pointed out in the same Instagram Live hosted on IDG. “It is important for us to create and utilise digital tools to end child marriage and early unions, and to use our online presence to share information on the issue.” The Power to Girls campaign is an opportunity “to make other people join in our efforts.”
Join Girls Not Brides members in driving change forward with and for girls by sharing your Power to Girls campaign commitment, or use the Power to Girls campaign toolkit to take action - online and in your community. Let’s end child marriage together.
In the time it has taken to read this article 49 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds