For global advocacy to work, we need grassroots activists in the room

National and community-based civil society organisations have a unique understanding of how to end child marriage. Their work with communities, married girls and girls at-risk of child marriage gives them a valuable insight into the reality of what’s needed to end child marriage. However, without the funding and resources available to larger NGOs, their voices are frequently absent from the global forums where international policies and strategies are set.

Girls Not Brides wants to see greater representation of national and community level organisations within international spaces, such as the Committee on the Status of Women (CSW). CSW is an inter-governmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. Without these voices, the international community risks losing out on key inputs from those working at the heart of the issue.

Last month, Girls Not Brides sought to amplify the impact of some of our members at the international level by sponsoring them to attend CSW. This annual two-week meeting in New York brought together governments, UN entities and civil society to discuss the challenges and opportunities for achieving gender equality.

The members sponsored by Girls Not Brides came from Malawi, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and each member found different ways to advance the global movement to end child marriage.

Charles Banda. from YONECO in Malawi, worked alongside his government delegation to help shape a set of CSW side events focused on child marriage. He was able to advise his government on pertinent issues and share his expertise on the local context of child marriage in Malawi.

Beatrice Savadye, from ROOTS in Zimbabwe, supported the running of the “Nhanga-Binti Space” – a safe space for girls and young women participating in CSW. It provided peer learning, a mentoring service, and offered opportunities to engage in advocacy with politicians and policy makers.

SM Shaikat from SERAC in Bangladesh took part in a series of meetings with members of his government while in New York, including a meeting with Bangladesh’s Minister of Women and Children Affairs. Shaikat was able to use this opportunity to discuss child marriage issues specific to his country, and get confirmation that the government is taking measures to bring national laws in line with international standards. This meeting opened opportunities for Shaikat’s organisation back in Bangladesh, as the Minister urged Shaikat to follow up on their conversation after CSW.

The inclusion of community and national organisations at global forums like CSW helps equip civil society with greater advocacy tools and opportunities to engage with their governments and drive change around child marriage.

We will continue to try to engage our members in international forums and encourage the global community to listen to the voices of civil society!

What did we learn?

CSW concluded with some strong language about child marriage and the rights of adolescent girls, including:

  • Rural girls are more likely than rural boys to remain excluded from school, and child marriage is a barrier to education for these girls.
  • Harmful practices such as child marriage are pervasive, under-recognised and under-reported. Violence against girls is a major impediment to gender equality and the empowerment of girls.
  • Child marriage has long-term impacts on the lives of girls and women, including on their health.
  • Guarantee the universal registration of births, including in rural areas, and ensure the timely registration of all marriages.

In Memoriam: it is with great sadness that we learned recently that Charles Banda has passed away. He was a keen advocate for ending child marriage and achieved real progress for women and girls in his own country, Malawi, as well as on the global stage. He will be greatly missed.