In July 2022, representatives from Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF) attended the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights (ACSHR), supported by UNICEF WCARO through Girls Not Brides. In this blog, Euphomia Edward, Program Officer for CDF and Coordinator for Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network (TECMN) shares key insights from the conference, including a case for funding young people like Tanzanian activist Marietta Cedric, to lead change in their own communities.
Young activists in the spotlight
This July I was privileged to be part of ACSHR convened by Purposeful in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There was strong youth representation with more than 350 youth delegates taking a noble opportunity to dialogue, learn, share and network with governments, activists, UN agencies, donors, religious leaders and hundreds of change makers across the continent.
As I navigated towards conference rooms for breakout sessions, seeing so many young people in attendance reminded me why is it crucial for young people to be part of the solution when it comes to tackling sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) and harmful practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
We don’t only need a “survivor-centred approach” but also a meaningful youth engagement in ending harmful practices, so the next generation are not telling the same stories in 10 or 20 years’ timeEuphomia Edward, Children's Dignity Forum & Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network
Young people are the ones mostly affected by these challenges. When we speak of issues like child marriage and FGM/C, it is girls and young women aged 11-25 who face the risks and carry the burden of its often devastating impacts. As women who’ve experienced such issues kept sharing their hidden stories of both pain and resilience, it clicked in my mind that we don’t only need a “survivor-centred approach” but also a meaningful youth engagement in ending harmful practices, so the next generation are not telling the same stories in 10 or 20 years’ time.
To accelerate progress to end practices like FGM/C and child marriage, there is a need for collective effort, policy shift and long term funding to allow young people to take the leadEuphomia Edward, Children's Dignity Forum & Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network
Young people understand their communities well, they know what it costs to marry as a child, or adolescent pregnancy. When provided with accessible platforms to share their thoughts, opinions and ideas, they are likely to come up with innovative solutions. To accelerate progress to end practices like FGM/C and child marriage, there is a need for collective effort, policy shift and long term funding to allow young people to take the lead.
Barriers to funding youth movements
I was joined at ACSHR with my young colleague, Marietha Cedric, who is a Girls Not Brides and CDF youth activist. Throughout our time together she asked me some thought provoking questions. It is from this encounter that I thought I must pen down this blog for both you and I to reflect: “Don’t you feel it is the right time for donors to put some flexibility to their funding practices?” she asked.
Her question made me rethink on the role of sustainable funding to realise the changes to end harmful practices and gender-based violence.
Youth-led organisations, and particularly those at the grassroots, have a disadvantage when it comes to accessing fundingEuphomia Edward, Children's Dignity Forum & Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network
To my experience, youth-led organisations, and particularly those at the grassroots, have a disadvantage when it comes to accessing funding. Even for those few that are “lucky” enough to qualify for a grant, they are subject to cumbersome applications, rigid requirements and reporting procedures that can act as a barrier to their work and make it difficult to qualify. Sometimes it is not enough to build potential and have the desire to receive funding to create change. Inflexible donor criteria can often make it difficult for youth to qualify even for the smallest grants.
I feel the importance of flexible funding that fits the current context, so that as change makers we won't have to sleep on our ideas just because we don’t have the resources or the system is complexMarietha Cedric, youth activist
Marietha represents thousands of youth activists working tirelessly to bring positive changes to their communities in my country, just like myself when I first started this work.
Flexible, sustainable funding for young activists
Marietha shares that: “I feel the importance of flexible funding that fits the current context, so that as change makers we won’t have to partly execute or sleep on our ideas just because we don’t have the resources or the system is complex.”
So, we wonder, where is the money? Marietha continues: “I am not sure I can directly locate the money, but at least we need some sort of engagement, accountability and transparency. I am thinking of global-level commitments on achieving Sustainable Development Goals. What do these commitments mean to my work locally? For example, how will the $ 40 billion committed for Generation Equality Forum trickle down to grassroots organisations and movements like the one I belong to? This is where the money is.”
As Marietha highlights, many youth groups are not registered, don’t have an “influential” board, bank statements, audit reports and some have never even seen a single call for proposals. Does this mean that these groups have no right to be funded? Definitely not.
Due diligence is important but shouldn’t be a barrier for youth activists like Marietha to access the resources they urgently need to scale up and sustain the changes they are leading in their communities.
A key way donors can this is through flexibility procedures based on the specific context and participatory grant making process that brings in young people’s voicesEuphomia Edward, Children's Dignity Forum & Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network
Disrupting traditional philanthropy
Now is the time for disruption. We need to learn, unlearn and unpack philanthropy. Money needs to go to where it is most needed. For the case of child marriage, young people - particularly girls - need the resources to be able to influence positive change within their communities.
I remain hopeful that big changes are on the horizon. During a breakout session at ACSHR, “Reimagining Funding Practice with Donors and Girls”, we saw a safe space for discussions between funding bodies and young people. Discussions like these can help find transformative ways to fund youth and girls, and outlaw the long-existing power relation between donors and grantees.
Committing to youth leadership through inclusive funding practices
Funding decisions are made through established systems where youth have lower influence. It is important that these systems are as inclusive as possible, for young people to be on board and able to influence the thinking and the practice of who can access funding and why. During the ACSHR Conference I learned that a key way donors can this is through putting some flexibility in their funding procedures based on the specific context and participatory grant making process that brings in young people’s voices.
It is still critical to develop young people’s skills and capacity and provide them with mentorship. True progress, however, will only come about if these initiatives are supported by consistent, sustainable and result driven funding.
I commit to inspire youth leadership on ending gender-based violence and harmful practices, particularly child marriage, and advocate for resourcing to grassroots youth led movements and organizations. Let us join hands!
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
Children's Dignity Forum & Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network
Children's Dignity Forum
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Stand Up, Speak Out trainer manual
The trainer manual offers step-by-step guidance on how to run a series of training workshops with young people interested in speaking out against child marriage and developing their activism skills.