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Three extraordinary women who are rewriting the rules for girls

Every year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That’s nearly one girl every two seconds, forced to grow up too soon.

Millions of girls are missing out on their education and opportunities. They are exposed to health risks and violence and trapped in a cycle of poverty.

But change is happening. Women across the world are stepping up and rewriting the rules for girls.

Meet three trailblazers who are tackling child marriage and transforming girls’ lives.

Wafa Bani Mustafa, Jordan

Girls cannot vote in the elections or obtain a driving license. So I wonder how they will be subjected to the most dangerous responsibility in the society which is establishing a family?

Bani Mustafa has served as a Member of Parliament in Jordan for three consecutive terms.

Through her work in Parliament, she wants to raise the legal age of marriage and pave the way for more girls to finish their compulsory education which ends at 16 in Jordan.

As a female parliamentarian, Bani has to defy the odds and push for progress.

“Where there is a defence for women’s rights, there is a backlash from conservative patriarchal bodies that prevents things from developing.”

The majority of child marriage cases in her country are found among Syrian refugees. But Bani has a strong message that she wants to spread to all girls in Jordan and across the world:

“For society to reform, the practice has to stop.”

Tabbasum Adnan – Pakistan

I realised that this is not only my story,  this is everybody’s. In this world there are so many women who are living and suffering like me.”

Tabassum founded Pakistan’s first ever female Jirga (community council), for women in her community to take control over decisions that affect their lives.

“Working in this community made us realize that men never bother about women’s issues and they can’t understand the real issues facing women. That’s why we decided to form a women’s jirga.”

As a child bride at 13 and mother of four, Tabbasum suffered through domestic violence, until she divorced her husband of 20 years.

Finding herself homeless and without support, she vowed to fight back and stand up for women’s rights in Swat, Pakistan.

“When I hear about girls in my community who have been raped by their own relatives, it hurts me. There are girls being sold into child marriage.”

Tabbasum founded the Da Khwendo Jirga (The Sisters Council) to raise the voices of women who are rarely heard in Pashtun society.

They come together to settle disputes and injustices against women and girls.

“People were very angry at me, especially the male jirgas. They went to a news channel and said that people should take sticks and beat us up. Because women cannot be jirgas.”

Despite the backlash, Tabbasum hasn’t given up, and her organisation has expanded to 30 different groups across Swat. Slowly things are starting to change.

Tabbasum was invited to be part of the Grand Male jirga – the first time a woman has ever attended a male jirga in Pashtun history!

Ranjana Srivastava – India

“Society has to change and must change!”

Ranjana is the co-founder of Independent Thought. A human rights organisation that highlights child marriage as a human rights violation in India.

“The cruellest stories are of those girls who protest, cry for help and try their best to alert State agencies. But they are crushed by the might of their family and society. These are stories of pain, broken confidences and a wrong message to others that nothing will happen.”

In a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of India, Ranjana helped to change a 77 year old law that now classes sex with a bride under 18 as rape.

This law can be used to demand justice for girls across India.

Ranjana has not given up her campaign against child marriage and sees there is more to be done. Independent Thought is finding new ways to work through legal systems and end child marriage in India.

Ranjana’s message is clear:

“Girls cannot continue to carry the burden of cultural baggage.”