1. Why did you choose to join Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage as our new Board Chair?
I was so honoured – and humbled – to be asked to lead Girls Not Brides as Chair of the Board of Trustees. For me, this organisation is the model that we need to look to when thinking about how to deal with complex social issues. Its holistic approach is one that resonates with my own learning and growth. Over more than three decades of working on issues of human rights, justice and equality, I’ve come to understand that strong legal frameworks are essential, but they are not enough. Advocacy is at least as important, but it can’t be the only focus. The provision of support and assistance to individuals and communities that have been marginalised is a critical pillar in any response, but it cannot shoulder the entire burden. As Girls Not Brides has shown, we must bring all these aspects together. We need to unite people and organisations towards a common purpose. We need to embrace collaboration and understanding in order to reach across even the deepest of divides.
Another huge attraction for me is the issue of child marriage. I have worked in so many areas of human rights, from criminal justice to human trafficking, from reproductive rights to refugee protection. These all matter so much, and I will continue to do what I can to make a difference. But child marriage is something that stands apart.
Ending child marriage is a goal that we can all share – that we must share. Reaching that goal will be a true marker of human progress. It will be a clear sign that we have turned a corner; that there is reason to hope we are moving towards a kinder, fairer and more equal world.
2. What do you see as the greatest challenge for Girls Not Brides in the next 5 years?
Girls Not Brides is entering its second decade at a time of global turmoil and uncertainty. Inequality within and between countries has reached unprecedented levels. Complex social problems are becoming even more complex; and are crowding each other out. There is fierce competition for attention and resources, and we are right to be worried that those who have been most marginalised will continue to miss out.
Our immediate challenge is two-fold. First, to keep the focus on child marriage, to ensure that this issue remains high on the international, regional and national political agenda. And second, we must focus our attention on those who are closest to this issue – the girls affected by child marriage, and the Girls Not Brides member organisations that are working with and for them. They are the ones who have the power to effect real and lasting change. We must do everything to ensure they have the support they need and deserve.
3. What do you see as the biggest opportunity?
Our opportunity lies in our mission, and in the strong track record of the past 10 years. The global movement is robust and maturing into a formidable force for change. The Girls Not Brides secretariat and member organisations have shown themselves capable of quickly adapting to – and driving – change, not least over the past year or so. I am confident that Girls Not Brides is well positioned to face and successfully weather the storms that we find ourselves in.
But there is no room for complacency. As Board Chair I want us to move directly into the path of the storm, to confront and expose the impacts that economic shocks and other aspects of the pandemic have had on the issue of child marriage. And this is an organisation that understands very well the importance of context: ending child marriage requires us to lean into some of the most difficult issues of our time, from gender discrimination to the massive economic inequality that destroys the most basic and necessary freedoms. We must continue to integrate these connections into how we think about and work to address child marriage.
4. What experience or learning do you want to bring from your work on the most challenging human rights challenges?
I have come to learn that human rights are all about power. They are about rebalancing power in favour of those who do not have enough, in favour of the people rather than the state, in favour of women and of children, whose power to live in dignity and freedom is too often compromised. History teaches us that no-one relinquishes power readily. It follows that the battle for human rights must be a long and fierce one.
That first lesson has been tempered by a second one. My experiences working on the human rights frontlines in all regions of the world have taught me to believe that change happens. It may not come quickly but it will come. I believe in change because I have seen for myself that if we care enough, and if we are willing to stand our ground, then we can move mountains. I believe, absolutely, that we will end child marriage. I believe in a future where girls and women are valued as equal to boys and men.
My third lesson is about the importance of placing the person we are working with and for front and centre. When I was working on human trafficking, I came to understand that those who had been trafficked knew best what needed to be done. Failing to listen to them was a certain path to bad policies, unintentional harm and ineffective responses. In this context it is clear to me that married girls and girls at risk of child marriage are the most valuable sources of information and insight, and can themselves be powerful agents of change. They must be in our sight at every point. We must constantly check our instincts, actions and decisions, asking ourselves whether these reflect girls’ needs and best interests, whether they empower girls to exercise their rights and freedoms.
5. What is your personal vision for steering the Partnership, based on what you know today?
I have worked on issues that intersect with child marriage for a long time and have watched the rise of Girls Not Brides closely over the past decade. One of the things that stood out for me was its multi-faceted nature.
This is an organisation that has helped to shape how the world understands and responds to child marriage. What an achievement!
At the same time, it has mobilised more than 1500 member organisations, creating an enabling community – the Partnership – that is getting on with the most important task of changing girls’ lives.
I have come to understand that both these aspects are interrelated, and both are essential to the mission of ending child marriage. Our strength, our legitimacy and our effectiveness reside in the Partnership. Our advocacy at the global, regional and national levels must be shaped by – and reflect – the experiences of those who best understand the issue and what needs to be done. Our collective work must be guided by our member organisations. We must ensure that our focus, our tactics and our strategies resonate with the insights and evidence their work is generating. It is our Partnership that will ensure the wider movement to end child marriage continues to place the rights and interests of girls front and centre.
The Board of Girls Not Brides is critical to the flourishing of the Partnership. I look forward to leading the Board as we work together to ensure that this organisation is in the best possible position to deliver on its ambitious vision of ending child marriage.
In the time it has taken to read this article 77 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