Girls Not Brides is deeply saddened by the news that its co-founder and Global Champion Archbishop Desmond Tutu has passed away.
In response to news of his passing, Mabel van Oranje, co-founder and Global Champion of Girls Not Brides said:
I am heartbroken by the death of my dear friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I got to know him, and I had the honour and pleasure of working with him when he was Chair of The Elders and I was their first CEO.
Arch was always willing to stand up for those who were unheard. I remember the day he learned that two out of every five girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before the age of 18. He was shocked that such abuse was taking place on his continent, and realised it was because these girls had no say in their lives, no voice.
Arch immediately pledged to bring the same determination to ending child marriage that he brought to fighting apartheid. His dedication was crucial in the creation of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.
Arch was a committed advocate for gender equality and he did so with his wonderful mixture of profound faith and good humour: “God isn’t stupid,” he said, “He created Eve because Adam couldn’t make it on his own.”
He rejected religious restrictions on women and publicly argued that girls need better access to sexual health services so that they can avoid early pregnancy and reach their full potential. He highlighted the benefits for entire communities when girls are educated, and not married.
I watched in awe as Arch charmed every individual, community and world leader we visited in our efforts to advocate for girls. His humility, sense of humour and compassion allowed us to build a truly global network of amazing individuals and organisations working to end child marriage.
We will miss him so immensely. Our heartfelt condolences go to his wife Leah, his children, his wider family and all those who loved him.
Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders, first woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner of Human Rights said:
My thoughts are with Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s family at this hard time. He was so dearly loved by so many.
I will never forget when we met girls who had been married as children in the Amhara region of Ethiopia in 2011. Arch asked this young woman about her wedding day. She replied: ‘It was the day I had to leave school’. It broke his heart and made him a fierce advocate for ending child marriage.
In our work to promote the rights of girls, Arch would say that he felt as strongly about addressing child marriage as he felt about ending apartheid. He publicly argued that traditions are human-made and can therefore be changed. He also never hesitated to point out the leadership role that men can and should play in advancing gender equality.
Arch cared deeply about every single human life. The world has lost one of its brightest lights and he will be sorely missed.
Dr. Faith Mwangi Powell, CEO of Girls Not Brides also paid tribute to Archbishop Tutu’s life:
At Girls Not Brides we a deeply saddened by the loss of our co-founder and Global Champion, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Throughout his life, Tutu gave voice to those who were denied their basic human rights. As a founding member of The Elders, he highlighted the global scale and impact of child marriage and brought it to the attention of world leaders.
Tutu travelled extensively to meet girls who had been personally impacted by child marriage in Africa and South Asia. He was determined to hear what girls themselves said about their own experiences and he put their words at the heart of his approach. He brought their voices into the corridors of power and made sure they could not be ignored.
We will do our utmost to continue his legacy and the movement he created. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.
As a veteran peace campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tutu is perhaps best known for his iconic leadership in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
He became a founding member and Board Chair of The Elders in 2007, a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights. In that capacity he campaigned to end child marriage worldwide and co-founded Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.
He often spoke out passionately against this form of violence against women and girls, equating the situation that many girls around the world face to that of apartheid: "Apartheid sought to quite deliberately hamstring a whole community, and this practice does the same thing. It is in fact hamstringing whole communities, preventing them from developing as they could have developed if girl children were given the opportunity of staying longer in school.”
He recognised the power that men and boys have in challenging child marriage, saying “it is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men.”
His legacy will be felt by thousands of women around the world who avoid marrying too soon because of his commitment and advocacy.
For more information, please contact Maria Fsadni, Press Officer, Girls Not Brides: media@GirlsNotBrides.org / +44 7909233806
About Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage
Girls Not Brides is a global network of more than 1,500 civil society organisations from over 100 countries committed to ending child marriage and ensuring girls can reach their full potential.
In the time it has taken to read this article 57 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