Words of Welcome

Together we can end child marriage

The 2nd Global Meeting of Girls Not Brides in Kuala Lumpur kicked off with a warm welcome by Executive Director Lakshmi Sundaram. “We have come here to connect, to learn, to be inspired and to align, in order to achieve our common goal: To end child marriage and allow every girl to fulfil her potential.”

Ending child marriage is more than making sure girls aren’t getting married off at a young age, said Sundaram: “Our vision is a world where men and women, boys and girls, are equal. Where every girl can have an education, where she can live free from violence, and where she chooses when, if and how many children she has. She has control over her body, control over her life, and is able to live her life to the fullest.”

But time is precious, Sundaram stressed. “Because over the three days of this conference, almost 100,000 girls will be married. Each one of these girls has a unique story and unique circumstances. And it is often these individual stories that fill our bellies with the fire and determination that make us committed to ending child marriage once and for all.”

Left: Executive Director Lakshmi Sundaram speaking at the opening session.
Right: Youth advocacy was an important theme at this Global Meeting. During the opening ceremony, a group of youthful activists took to the stage. “Nothing about us, without us!” they proclaimed.

The movement of change

Girls Not Brides was founded in 2011, following a meeting in Addis Ababa. At that time, very few people and organisations were working towards ending child marriage. It was a taboo and the millions of girls getting married each year were pretty much invisible. We decided to embark on a mission to create a world without child marriage.

Our Partnership has grown quite a bit since that first meeting… We started out with 87 member organisations in 20 countries. Today, we have 1,017 member organisations in 97 countries! This is what I call a truly global organisation, with lots of community-based organisations and youth-led groups.

In recent years, there has been tremendous progress in terms of global, regional and national commitments. I’m incredibly proud of the successes we have achieved. However, we also face challenges. Unless we strengthen and accelerate our work, we might not be able to end child marriage within one generation because of global population growth. We need to turn commitment into action. We need to deal with the closing space for civil society. We need to mobilise more funds. And, most importantly, we can’t be complacent.

We need to start looking at adolescent girls as holistic individuals who need a comprehensive sector approach. We all know civil society cannot do it alone. We have to work with governments, we have to work with the UN, we have to work together. Let’s not forget the way we started out; we are pragmatic, we are low in bureaucracy, and we are flexible. We consider every organisation and every member equal. We collaborate. And ultimately, girls are at the heart of everything we do.

I know that if we continue to work this way, we can end child marriage in one generation.

Co-founder and Chair of Girls Not Brides
Mabel van Oranje

Mabel van Oranje