Young people are not just our future, but powerful leaders of today. Yet often they are not actively included in the processes or decision-making spaces directly affecting them. The individuals most at risk, or already affected by child marriage, must be at the heart of solutions to end it. But how does this translate to efforts on the ground?
“Without youth, there can be no change. Youth are the future. If we do not listen to their needs we will not be able to effect change.” - Amrit Anjali, Jharkand youth worker.
To mark International Youth Day on 12 August 2021, we spoke with seven youth activists across the globe to better understand their vision of creating an equal future for girls.
Engaging young people for an equal future
Youthhood is the time when individuals are more open to examining their stereotypes, engaging in discussion and debate, and perhaps also, changing some of their notions and habits. In the long run, this leads to sustainable change.Karuna, local Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti (MJAS) girl activist, Rajasthan
From inter-generational conflict, to lack of resources and funding, girls continue to face multiple barriers in accessing decision-making spaces and support on issues affecting them. Girls are demanding change and access to participate at all levels of programme design, campaigns, advocacy initiatives and funding opportunities to promote their agency.
“Involving youth is important not only in programme implementation but also in decision making. We must also understand how the community around them responds to decisions and changes made by youth.” Yogesh, youth lead from Vikalp Sansthan in Rajasthan.
Building confidence and safe spaces
As one of the few girls with a driving licence in her community, Mamta Jangid 24, a youth activist from India, proudly drives between local villages to engage girls in football and leadership development trainings. “At first, girls were excluded from team sports,” she told us. “With time, our football pitch became a safe space to openly discuss issues affecting us most. We didn’t talk just about sport, but politics, our rights and ways that we could protect ourselves.”
The participants at Mamta’s football clubs took a stand by deciding not to attend any underage marriages within their community. Her work highlights the importance of building safe, nurturing spaces for youth activism that are consultative and confidence-boosting, and encourage information sharing and decision making. Mamta witnessed a powerful shift in how they approached the sport.
They started playing fearlessly, laughing openly and running freely. When girls play with a carefree mind, they feel mentally strong and free.
Better access to resources
For all of the activists, limited access to resources means that accelerating their efforts and impact is a challenge.
Resource constraints are one of the key barriers young people and girls face in setting up and continuing their activism and campaigning initiatives. Even when funds are available, often organisations are asked to jump through many hoops to qualify for even the smallest of grants.Euphomia Edwards, Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF) Empowerment, advocacy and partnership officer, and Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network (TECMN) coordinator, Tanzania.
The solution? “We need to invest in youth-led grassroots organisations,” Euphomia tells us, “when they are comfortable working within their networks, young people are able to implement more impactful and innovative solutions to the problems that they face.”
Young people innovating to overcome barriers
Those living in humanitarian settings, including some communities most severely affected by the consequences of COVID-19, face additional pressures and challenges. But youth leaders shared innovative responses focused on building solidarity and resilience.
For example, youth in Latin America came together to set up Jóvenas Latidas, an independent movement formed and led by diverse indigenous, Afro-descendant, LGBTIQ+ young women from rural areas who work tirelessly for the rights of girls, adolescents and women.
We needed a space to learn, build solidarity and support each other to address the issues that youth face in the region. The diversity of the group helped us to build a truly inclusive vision.Gabriela Muñoz, anthropologist and youth activist from Guatemala City
Mobilising to end child marriage
There is no single response to ending child marriage. Solutions must holistically address the barriers that girls face every day to exercising their rights and power. This will not happen until inspiring youth activists like Marie Thérèse, Mamta, Gabriela, Euphomia, Yogesh, Amrit and Karuna – as well as countless youth activists doing incredible work within their communities – are able to shape the decisions that directly impact their lives.
This International Youth Day, we must all take action to ensure that girls’ voices are heard in the decision-making spaces that matter to them, in order to build an equal future.
In the time it has taken to read this article 47 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 3 seconds