In Liberia, 36% of girls are married before they turn 18. As a country nestled in the south-west corner of West Africa, Liberia has the 20th highest prevalence of child marriage globally, with girls from the poorest households most affected by the issue.
Gender disparities and power imbalances based on tradition and cultural taboos prevent girls from making progress and having equal rights with men. Girls Not Brides member organisations in Liberia highlight that girls are at particular risk of physical and sexual abuse, so amongst some tribal groups child marriage is viewed as a protective measure.
Female genital mutilation/cutting also remains a practice with a prevalence rate of 38% among Liberian women. All these inequities can leave girls at a disadvantage and unable to access their rights and power– but a movement of activists, young people, grassroots organisations and allies in Liberia are working to change that.
Working with young activists
Based in the township of Gardnersville, Girls Not Brides member Brighter Initiatives for Revitalization and Development Liberia (BIRD) is working within communities to support girls and young people to step into their power and avoid marriage as a child.
“We decided to work with young people because they are most affected by child marriage,” says Emmanuel Quiqui, BIRD’s Office Administrator.
They should be given support to amplify their voices and enable them to take ownership.Emmanuel Quiqui, BIRD Liberia
BIRD Liberia are rolling out their Power to Girls campaign nationally with support from Girls Not Brides, working with young activists to raise awareness on how to end child marriage and ensure girls’ rights are upheld.
“The activists will go around the country to speak to students and school administrators,” Emmanuel continued. “They’ll go to radio stations around Liberia and meet with the national legislature to spread the campaign message.”
BIRD and their youth activist contingent are targeting a range of different groups and individuals who have influence and decision-making power over whether a girl is married as a child.
Taking a multi-sectoral approach
“Working with youth to reach out to multiple stakeholders - from traditional leaders to the media, from civil society to parents – is an effective approach because we want to spread the message across various chiefdoms, with young people at the centre of making change for their own futures,” says Executive Director of BIRD, Sammenie Otis Sydney.
He adds: “We’re working to affect change at the national level and hope the Government will institute stronger policy measures than what is currently in place. This is because current policies do not seem to be working efficiently to safeguard girls across Liberia."
Ten activists have trained with BIRD and are now spreading the campaign message across Liberia in classrooms, government offices, homes, and amplified over the radio waves.
As young, driven individuals, they all have dreams for what they want to achieve in life, as well as ambition to end child marriage for their peers and future generations.
We are working for girls’ best interests and want them to be able to pursue their dreamsMoibah Korleh, student & BIRD Liberia activist
Moibah Korleh, who wants to work as an economist in the future, says: “We’re starting by talking to our communities, our peers and relatives, about how we can end early marriage.”
Through the campaign, the group of young leaders are holding conversations with their own networks as well as advocating on a range of issues that cut across and intersect with child marriage, including education and gender equality.
I wish to see that all girls have the opportunity to go to school and choose when and who to marry, at the right age and time.Adah Saah-Bonkie, student & BIRD Liberia
Nyemade Newton, who has ambitions to become a neurosurgeon, adds: “I don’t want people calling girls and young women emotional or weak. I don’t want to see an environment where people discriminate or think we are inferior. I want to see a Liberia where everyone can be equal.”
Driving national change
Alongside this group of strong, motivated young activists, BIRD aim to have a big impact through their campaign across Liberia.
“We’ve achieved a lot since we launched the campaign. Parents, teachers, traditional leaders, journalists and members of civil society have agreed to work with us to help safeguard young people from child marriage,” Emmanuel Quiqui from BIRD says. “Community members have also responded by emphasising the importance of education to their children, rather than focusing on early marriage.”
Sammenie from BIRD adds: “We strongly believe that with the inclusion of these young people in taking this campaign forward, the National Government will hear their voices and act on our call to action. By making this change we’ll improve girls’ lives and Liberian society as a whole.”
In the time it has taken to read this article 48 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
Brighter Initiatives for Revitalization and Development (BIRD-Liberia) is a non-governmental organization founded in 2014. The organisation works through advocacy, awareness raising, as well as mediation in marginalised areas of Liberia.
Girls Not Brides
Girls Not Brides is a global network of more than 1,600 civil society organisations in over 100 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to reach their full potential.
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