What have we learned from a decade working to end child marriage?
2021 is a significant year for Girls Not Brides. We have learned many lessons in the last decade and seen phenomenal growth in the movement.
Our Global Champion, Mabel van Oranje, recently reflected that ten years ago, “the lack of focus on child marriage was way out of balance with the sheer scale of the issue,” but that now “through the hard work of the movement, ending child marriage is very much on the global agenda.” There is much to celebrate about our joint successes as a Partnership, however 12 million girls are still married as children every year.
We have a strong foundation and many opportunities to build from as a movement. This includes our National Partnerships whose vital work is driving greater change at the national and regional levels to end child marriage.
We spoke to Girls Not Brides National Partnerships around the world to find out: what have they learned over the past decade, and how will we move forward together?
1. We are stronger together
The strength of our movement lies in the diverse multitude of organisations, activists, donors and supporters that make it up. As a Global Partnership, we know that supporting and strengthening civil society organisations is core to driving the movement forward.
Denis Kiirya from Shines Children’s Foundation, shares this sentiment, "as part of the National Partnership in Uganda, and the global Partnership, we see that when Girls Not Brides shares our work, it gets greater coverage.”
Working together creates visibility. When Girls Not Brides shares our work, it gets greater coverage.
Our members in Asia have also witnessed the benefits of collaborative working. “The Partnership has built the linkages between us and national and international organisations,” commented Mashooque Bihamani from Sujag Sansar Organsiation in Pakistan. He added that being connected with national and international level events and forums through Girls Not Brides “supported them to be well recognised as working to end child marriages” in their region, Sindh, Pakistan.
2. Solutions to child marriage must be scaled up
Change is possible in the movement to end child marriage. Since 2010 the practice has declined by approximately 15%, however, we still have a long way to go, with millions more girls still at risk every year.
To reduce the number of girls getting married as children and to support married girls, governments need to make large-scale investment in structural change that will reach across communities and countries. This is so, as Payzee Mahmod, child marriage survivor and campaigner at IKWRO shared with us as one of her key lessons as an activist,
We must ensure that no child is left behind.
3. Social norms underpin child marriage
The harmful social and gender norms that underpin child marriage mean that society values girls less than boys. If we’re to create change so girls can live full and happy lives, transforming social norms is essential.
In India, Pooja Rajiv from Srijan Foundation told us that “parents from the very beginning of life start preparing daughters for marriage as the ultimate life goal. Girls themselves can value their own worth based on the importance boys give them.”
These are the harmful social norms that repress girls and women and reduce their life chances. Our member organisations around the world have seen through their work with communities that it is possible to transform social norms so that girls have equal value in society. If we do this, girls will be able to access their rights, power, and live free from child marriage.
4. Girls are the present and future
Child marriage predominantly impacts girls and continues to affect them long into their womanhood. We know girls and young women are experts in their own lives and therefore must be at the centre of decision making on action to end child marriage, because they are the ones affected.
Akampurira Prayze, from Youth Fraternity for Change and Girls Not Brides Uganda, works with girls so they take a lead role in the movement. She told us that it is powerful “to fund girls as champions of change through peer-to-peer activism.”
Immaculate Mukasa from Mentoring and Empowerment Programme for Young Women, also in Uganda, found that peer learning is an effective way to share messages on Comprehensive Sexuality Education. By connecting girls and supporting them with the right information and resources, they can access the tools they need to fulfil their potential. She said;
If girls have the right information, they will also share with their peers.
In the UK, activist Payzee Mahmod says that the “most important thing” is to acknowledge child marriage “as a form of violence against women and girls”. To make progress on ending child marriage and create a gender equal world, we need to recognise that the practice is rooted in gender inequality, and support girls and women to make decisions about their own lives.
Girls Not Brides National Partnerships are essential drivers of change at the national and regional level. In 12 countries around the world they are working collaboratively to ensure girls have access to their power.
To build on these learnings from the past decade, you can make a Power to Girls commitment and tell us how you will act to end child marriage. Join us in calling for urgent and immediate action to end the practice and support girls’ access to their power.
In the time it has taken to read this article 54 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