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Child Marriage in NepalNepal, a landlocked country in South Western Asia, is one of the few places in the world where rates of child marriage are not slowing. In certain areas, they are increasing. Although child marriage in Nepal has been illegal for over fifty years, 40% of Nepalese women between the ages of 20 and 24 were illegally married before their eighteenth birthday. Young boys are equally at risk. The number of child grooms is disproportionately high when compared to the rest of the world.

Contributions to Child Marriage in Nepal

Several factors contribute to child marriage in developing countries. Nepal has a patriarchal society that values girls significantly less than boys. Limited access to education and a negative outlook towards a sexual expression motivates adolescents to marry early. The most massive motivator, however, is poverty. Countries with a higher percentage of the population living on under $1.90 per day, including Nepal, frequently experience higher rates of child marriage. Poverty correlates to the high rates of child marriage in Nepal, including dowries and financial benefits, economic hardship of schooling and “love marriages” to escape poverty.

The Struggle with Poverty

Although rates have decreased over the past few years, Nepal continues to struggle with poverty. While poverty in Nepal has reduced from 15% to 8% in the last decade, the country remains one of the most impoverished in Asia and ranks 147th on the Human Development Index. Nepal is mostly made up of a landscape dominated by mountains. Being rural makes development difficult. The country also struggles with rapid population growth, political instability and a growing wealth gap between the very rich and the very poor. They all contribute to a high poverty rate.

Considering the Financial Reasons

Nepalese families often arrange marriages for their children for financial reasons. Girls who live under the poverty line are more likely to enter a child marriage in Nepal than girls who do not. This dilemma is due to the concept of a dowry. A bride’s family will provide the groom’s family with money or gifts to establish the marriage. Dowries increase the societal value of boys who receive them. They decrease the value of girls whose families must pay. Impoverished families rely on dowries as a source of income, incentivizing them to marry their sons, especially at young ages. In some areas in Southern Nepal, the dowry increases with the age of the bride. This motivates families to arrange marriages for their daughters quickly and early.

Additionally, many married girls stop attending school to care for their husband and start a family. Tuition and materials are costly, and keeping girls in school creates a financial strain on families. This strain is relieved when a match leads to an established marriage.

Escaping Poverty

Child marriage also functions as a means to escape poverty. ‘Love marriages,’ or those not sanctioned by parents, are also common in impoverished Nepal. Young girls and boys often establish ‘love marriages’ as a way to leave their families. This can be done for many reasons, yet a common one is poverty. Matches form quickly to escape impoverished homes and enter a more secure situation.

The Nepalese government has implemented some strategies to decrease the high rates of child marriage in Nepal. The country recently increased their minimum legal marrying age to 20. Families who kept their daughters in school instead of arranging a wedding for them received cash incentives and bicycles in January 2019. Nepal has promised to eradicate child marriage by the year 2030. Although it is a daunting task, it is incredibly crucial for the health and wellbeing of Nepalese girls.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Access to Healthcare in Iraq
Iraq, a nation that war and devastation have plagued, has a healthcare system in a state of crisis. Doctors are fleeing the country and drugs are running low. Of a nearly $107 billion budget in 2018, only about 2% went to Iraq’s health ministry. As a result, healthcare quality is very poor, and women’s access to healthcare in Iraq is particularly limited. Many doctors attempt to purchase supplies and technology from private manufacturers, but laws require that the government provide all medical supplies.

Violence Against Women

About 96% of Iraqi citizens do not have health insurance, but 85% of women over the age of 15 are unemployed and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. Iraq’s long history with misogyny, honor killings and religious ideas promoting the use of violence against women exacerbates the situation for Iraqi women, 37% of whom will experience violence from a partner or acquaintance.

Women in Iraq have little to no access to female-centered health such as OB-GYNs, counseling and crisis centers, which are generally secret or hidden. WHO has called the issue of violence against women a “global health issue of epidemic proportions,” and has created effective measures so that doctors can become more aware of abuses. In Iraq, where women are unlikely to see doctors sensitive to women’s issues, there is no guarantee of receiving assistance.

Access to Education

Another issue affecting women’s health is a lack of female doctors due to a very low rate of education among girls in Iraq. Unfortunately, little data is available to measure the number of girls who attend in school in Iraq — which is itself proof of the lack of attention to girls’ education. As of 2010, according to the last published report about female education in Iraq, only 44% of girls were enrolled in school. The report also revealed that 75% of girls dropped out before the end of primary school, and only 25% of girls who stayed in primary school made it to intermediate school.

Women’s lack of access to education has proven to be a direct link to child marriage and the exploitation of young women. About 33% of girls who have to marry have no education, and 13% only have a primary school education. Girls who are educated are more likely to recognize the signs of abuse, which gives them a chance to escape, pursue careers and experience lower risks of poverty.

US Efforts to Help

The Girls Lead Act (S.2766) aims to make education more accessible for girls in nations like Iraq. This bill will strengthen young girls’ involvement and participation in education, specifically in math, science and politics. A lack of women in leadership roles is a major factor behind misogyny and sexism in developing nations, as well as in women’s health. According to the bill, “Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision making. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.”

Writing to leaders in support of the Girls Lead Act, participating in initiatives to ban child marriage and raising awareness of gender-based violence are key ways to increase women’s access to healthcare in Iraq. These efforts may be the greatest chance that Iraqi girls have at living a prosperous life.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr

forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan
In Iraq, a 1987 law entitled the Personal Status Law and Amendments stated that a person may not marry until age 18, however, they could marry with judicial consent at age 15. Nevertheless, 24% of girls marry by age 18 and 5% marry by age 15. In Afghanistan, the numbers are just as shocking. In fact, 35% of girls in Afghanistan marry by 18, and 9% by age 15. The consequences of forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan are detrimental to the development of a young girl’s identity and safety, and they shed light on issues with child marriage around the globe.

Child Marriage in Iraq

Child marriage is often the result of extreme poverty or religious beliefs, and because of these factors, it is at its highest in the Middle East. In Iraq, one in four children lives in poverty, making them extremely vulnerable to forced marriage. When families receive offers of money in exchange for their child, they often accept in order to feed the rest of their family. The girls that enter these marriages often suffer abuse and rape, or become pregnant; then in some cases, they experience divorce and end up on the street. Women over age 15 are also vulnerable to abusive marriages because 85% do not work and cannot financially support themselves.

In Iraq, child marriage is not criminalized and many often consider it normal or protect it. Recently, the rate of “pleasure marriages” has skyrocketed as well. Pleasure marriages are temporary marriages that have religious approval and often occur either so the man can obtain money from the girl’s family or for sexual exploitation of the girl before the marriage ends and the wife experiences abandonment. This is detrimental to young girls in poverty and rural communities, as their family often abandons them after paying large dowries to the man’s family.

Child Marriage in Afghanistan

Forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan is an unfortunate commonality, largely because of religious beliefs but also because girls lack opportunities for independence. In Afghanistan, although there are laws in place that make it illegal to marry anyone under age 18, they rarely experience enforcement. A 2017 study by UNFPA stated that girls who complete secondary school are less likely to be married under age 18, but unfortunately, the most recent data reflects that only 44% of girls in Afghanistan enter primary school. Only half of those girls then go on to secondary school. The lack of education that leads to poverty does not only take away a girl’s chance to experience growth and independence–in Afghanistan, it makes her all the more vulnerable to a forced marriage.

The effects of child marriage on a girl’s health and well being are detrimental. Girls under 15 years old are five times more likely to die in childbirth, according to the Women’s Health Coalition. Just as devastating, a child born to a child bride is 60% more likely to die in their first year of life. Girls forced to marry often cannot access healthcare because they have signs of abuse both physical and sexual. Because of this, the risk of STD contraction is very high.

Combatting Child Marriage Globally

Forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan affects too many young girls. Girls Not Brides is an international organization working to enforce the sustainable development goals that are necessary to end child marriage, starting with poverty and hunger. Girls Not Brides outlines steps in its Theory of Change and monitors change frequently. The organization’s website allows people to email and call leaders in support of enforcing the legal age of marriage. Thanks to organizations such as that, child marriage now is declining in the world. In 2016, the percentage of women married before the age of 15 globally was 7%, as opposed to 12% in the 1990s.

There are also fact sheets and visuals to use on social media. In the U.S., the Girls Lead Act, or S.2766, is in need of support. This bill would provide funding for education initiatives for the millions of girls worldwide. This bill also focuses on the lack of girls in politics, science and technology; it will fund programs to make these fields of study more accessible. Beginning with education and stable living conditions, girls living in poverty won’t have to fear losing their futures.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr

Gender inequality in Somalia

COVID-19 is deepening gender inequality in Somalia, as girls and women are increasingly losing autonomy over their bodies and the ability to plan for families themselves. It is projected that there will be an increase in female genital mutilation (FGM) and childhood marriages. The international community has a responsibility to intervene in Somalia to protect the human rights of girls and women.

Female Genital Mutilation

The COVID-19 lockdown in Somalia has led to a rapid increase in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Somali parents have taken advantage of school closures as a result of COVID-19, asking nurses to perform FGM on their daughters now because they have time to stay at home and recover.

Circumcisers are traveling neighborhoods offering to cut girls who are at home, causing a dramatic increase in FGM procedures. Sadia Allin, Plan International’s head of mission in Somalia stated, “the cutters have been knocking on doors, including mine, asking if there are young girls they can cut.

COVID-19 prevention measures are perpetuating the continuation of FGM and consequently gender inequality in Somalia. In 2020, at least 290,000 girls in Somalia will undergo FGM, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Somalian citizens are unable to raise awareness about the dangers of FGM in their local communities because of the ongoing lockdown.

Child Marriage

Child marriages are also projected to increase as a result of COVID-19. Families are more likely to marry off their daughters during stressful crises to reduce the number of people they must provide for. It is expected that the economic fallout of the pandemic will result in 13 million child marriages by 2030.

The closure of Somalian schools because of COVID-19 could also escalate the number of child marriages. Girls Not Brides chief executive Faith Mwangi-Powell stated, “Schools protect girls. When schools shut, the risks (of marriage) become very heightened.”

Efforts to Stop Gender Inequality

International organizations, such as Girls Not Brides, Plan International and Save the Children, are taking a stance to protect vulnerable women and girls in Somalia.

In April, Girls Not Brides wrote a letter to the African Union, urging the group to take a stance against gender inequality. Girls Not Brides explained ways that the African Union can protect vulnerable communities during COVID-19. These steps include training educators to recognize and prevent violence, protecting social sector spending and adopting distance learning solutions, among many others.

Plan International is demanding that sexual and reproductive health information and services that prevent and respond to harmful practices, such as FGM, should be an integral part of the COVID-19 response. The organization also advocates that girls and young women should be included in the conversation to ensure their voices are heard and their needs are met. Plan International strives to end FGM so that women and girls can make their own decisions regarding their sexual reproductive health and well-being. Its work is extremely important because FGM can cause a variety of short-term and long-term health risks. Girls and women who undergo FGM are likely to experience excessive bleeding, genital tissue swelling and infections.

Save the Children is a humanitarian organization for children around the world. The organization launched the “Save our Education” campaign to promote distance learning and to encourage investment in education systems for the future.

Somali girls who do not return to school will grow more vulnerable to the effects of gender inequality as described above. The World Bank discovered that “each year of secondary education may reduce the likelihood of marrying before the age of 18 by five percentage points or more in many countries.”

Organizations such as Girls Not Brides, Plan International and Save the Children are trailblazers for the eradication of FGM and discontinuation of unwanted pregnancies and child marriages in Somalia during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are paving the way to decrease gender inequality in Somalia.

Danielle Piccoli
Photo: Flickr

AFRIpads in Uganda
Sophia and Paul Grinvalds created AFRIpads in Uganda while they were living in a remote village there in 2010 and saw the lack of accessible menstrual products firsthand. To combat the scarcity of menstrual products and the stigma periods carried in the country, the Grinvalds invented an affordable and reusable menstrual pad. AFRIpads in Uganda promote hygienic and accessible menstrual health in order to educate and empower young girls in the nation and across the world to feel comfortable and safe during their periods.

AFRIpads in Uganda

Today, AFRIpads employs over 200 Ugandans in the country’s full-time, formal employment sector. In addition, it has impacted millions of girls all over the world with its sustainable and affordable products. The company has helped the environment by eliminating the use of approximately 190 million disposable pads, as women can use each AFRIpad for up to a year.

In addition to helping the environment and giving back to the country’s economy, AFRIpads is helping empower the women of Uganda by focusing on educating schoolgirls about healthy and natural period habits. Menstrual health education is a taboo topic in Ugandan culture, and schools have never formally taught it. However, AFRIpads is helping to turn this around by providing use and care guides, as well as an educational comic in all of the brand’s menstrual kits. The company also offers online training for adults to learn how to teach young girls about the menstrual cycle.

Co-founder Sophia Grinvalds told the Irish Times that “There’s misconceptions about losing your fertility if you do certain things when you have your period…In one part of the country there’s a belief that if a girl on her period, or a woman on her period, walks through your garden when you’re growing vegetables, that everything in your garden will die.”

Employment

Grinvalds and her team decided to base AFRIpads in the Ugandan village Kitengeesa in order to deliberately boost the rural economy. Women make up 90% of the company’s employees, giving these women an opportunity for greater independence with their own incomes. “They have bank accounts at Barclay’s, have savings accounts, are saving for the government pension plan, [and are paying taxes],” Grinvalds told NPR in an interview.

The Kitengeesa manufacturing base for AFRIpads in Uganda provides a sense of community for the workers who feel proud to involve themselves in the organization’s impactful mission. In addition, it empowers women by allowing them to economically support their goals. A testimony by AFRIpads’ production supervisor Judith Nassaka stated that “The best thing about AFRIpads is that there is strong teamwork among the employers and employees…They also pay me the best salary. My future plan is to buy a plot of land and build my own home.”

Future Plans for Outreach

AFRIpads also collaborates with several other international nonprofit organizations such as Girls Not Brides, an organization that advocates to end child marriages and seeks to empower young girls. Through partnerships like these, women are able to access educational resources, affordable products and advocate for themselves.

AFRIpads stated on its website that it has reached more than 3.5 million girls and women across the globe with reusable and affordable products. AFRIpads continues to educate girls and women about the menstrual cycle and safe hygiene practices, in addition to providing employment in developing areas of Uganda. This, in turn, can help combat environmental waste across the world.

– Myranda Campanella
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Russia
The minimum marriageable age in Russia is 18 years old. However, in some regions, it is common practice for teens to marry before the age of 18. Some may even marry as young as 14 years of age. For instance, in Moscow, the legal marriageable age is 16 and in Bashkortostan, it is 14, with underage marriages in Chechnya as well. In recent years, the idea of child marriage in Russia has sparked legal and social disputes between various communities.

In 2015, Putin lowered the legal age of marriage to 14 in Bashkortostan. This dropped the age of consent for special circumstances like teen pregnancy. However, the number of marriages is reportedly rising as teen pregnancies are increasing. Moreover, the public has agreed to the lowering of the age of consent. This brings up the issue that lowering the age exploits children. The problem extends in regions across Russia that are predominately traditionalists in their views and do not have close monitoring like in the northern and southern Caucasus regions.

Child Marriage in Chechnya

In Chechnya, reports indicated that an underage teen unlawfully married a man that was three times her age and already had multiple wives. The bride was 17 years old while the man was either in his late 40s or early 50s. The leader of the Chechen Republic attended the marriage even though Russian law does not permit polygamous marriages and child marriages. This highlights the pervading difficulties in enforcing laws across different regions.

Bride kidnappings have increased since the fall of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union fell, Russia monitored other forms of social control, such as law enforcement, less. In addition, under Chechen rule, there has been a decrease in woman’s rights. Some even view bridal kidnappings as a tradition in Chechnya. The day of the wedding is often the last day brides see their families.

Many Caucasus states have reverted back to traditional social roles; women stay at home, especially in small towns and villages. In these small villages, people have accepted child marriage for hundreds of years. Some communities believe that their religion mandates it.

In Chechnya, there is no protection against forced marriage for young women, despite its illegality. The lack of control across the region explicitly inhibits the rights of women. Since the Chechnyan government runs locally, authorities’ biases influence women’s rights and child marriage. Enforcing laws in the North Caucasus region is difficult for Russia because of a lack of both executability and accountability.

Reports on Child Marriage in the South Caucasus Region

According to a UNICEF estimation, 7 percent of Armenian girls entered into marriage by 18 years of age in 2014. Unfortunately, this number may be much higher, since many underage marriages do not undergo registration. Women have little access to higher education. Moreover, people treat them unequally so others make decisions for them without their consent. Poverty and the familial need to ensure social status makes child marriage especially prevalent in small villages since marriage (and having children) can raise a girl’s standing and relieve financial burdens on her family. In Yezidi communities, children rarely seek out help for fear of suffering exclusion from their families. Soviet exceptionalism is a problem in this region, where Yezidis do not have to abide by Russian laws concerning the minimum age of consent.

In Azerbaijan, 2 percent of girls entered marriage by age 15 and 11 percent by 18, yet some believe that these statistics are underestimated. Bridal kidnappings are even more common. There is a direct link between bridal kidnappings and child marriages since early marriage is a threat to bridal abduction. Most families are more willing to marry their child off young than to have someone eventually abduct their daughter.

Russia’s Steps Forward

Despite the ongoing issues, Russia has taken multiple steps towards ending child marriage. According to girlsnotbrides.org, Russia has aimed to end forced child marriage by 2030. The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination on Women, adopted in 1979, is an international bill consisting of 30 articles that define what constitutes discrimination against women. CEDAW has also taken charge of the issue by spreading awareness, for instance during Russia’s review in 2015. The bill ensures equal opportunities and equal access to public life including education, health and employment. In 1990, the minimum age of consent was age 18. In addition, the CEDAW Committee states that partners must have full consent for marriage.

UNICEF is leading the way towards support for women in the Caucasus regions. The organization offers youth grants supporting education for women, hotlines and supportive services to girls, strengthens legal protections and promotes awareness. Along with the government’s initiatives to stop child marriage, Russia is taking the initiative to guide communities across all regions, providing solutions toward a brighter future for girls.

Joelle Shusterman
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Nepal Despite becoming illegal in 1963, child marriage remains a common practice in Nepal. Almost 40 percent of girls in Nepal will be wed before the age of 18, and 10 percent of girls will be married before the age of 15. These statistics place Nepal with the 17th highest prevalence rate of child marriage worldwide. As of 2017, there were 587,000 child brides in the country. The vast majority of these marriages are arranged, sometimes with significant age differences. Furthermore, the brides in child marriages are more likely to experience domestic violence and rape.

Activists claim that prevalence rates are increasing in some districts of the country. This is occurring despite the government announcing in 2014 a target to eradicate child marriage by 2030. However, there are a plethora of organizations working to combat child marriage in Nepal. Many of these organizations are working in tandem with the government to ensure that the 2030 goal is achieved. Keep reading to learn more about the top five organizations fighting child marriage in Nepal.

5 Organizations Fighting Child Marriage in Nepal

  1. UNICEF: The humanitarian branch of the United Nations has been instrumental in both raising awareness and tackling the problem of child marriage in Nepal. In 2016, UNICEF launched the Global Program to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, focusing on Nepal and 11 other countries. This program manifests through training community religious leaders to advise against child marriage. In addition, efforts include building health posts that protect child brides by teaching them about reproductive health, as well as mobilizing adolescent girls.

  1. Girls Not Brides: Girls Not Brides and UNICEF worked in tandem to craft Nepal’s National Strategy to End Child Marriage in 2016. The plan includes six components: implementing laws and policies, empowering girls, providing quality education for girls, engaging men, mobilizing families and communities to change norms and providing services. One tangible action taken thus far includes raising the legal marriage age to 20. Another action includes providing cash incentives for families to support their daughters’ educations. Girls Not Brides also works closely with a variety of grassroots organizations that address the issue on the ground including Sakcham Rural Nepal, Loo Niva Child Concern Group and Janaki Women Awareness Society.

  2. Kapilvastu Integrated Development Services (KIDS): A partner organization of Girls Not Brides, KIDS works in Kapilvastu, a district in Nepal, to improve women’s health services. Some of its projects include Safe Motherhood through WASH. WASH targets recent mothers, including child brides, to promote hygiene mothering practices such as hospital deliveries. Another project is the Women’s Health Program, which informs poor adolescent girls about their reproductive health to protect young brides.

  3. Loo Niva Child Concern Group: Another Nepali organization, Loo Niva specializes in children’s rights. The organization protects vulnerable children from exploitative practices, such as arranged child marriages. In particular, the organization has worked in the southern Lalitpur rural area. There, the organization promotes intervention education programs about the dangers of child marriage and how it contributes to issues such as school dropouts.

  4. Human Rights Watch: Although not involved in grassroots and community efforts, Human Rights Watch plays an instrumental role. The organization’s efforts hold the Nepali government accountable for its goal to end child marriage. Additionally, it has consistently surveyed the Nepali government’s actions and reported when, for example, the Nepali government delayed releasing in its strategic plan in 2016. This exposure is necessary to pressure the Nepali government to achieve its target.

Chace Pulley
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Yemen

Yemen is located in the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula between Oman and Saudi Arabia. Getting access to education has been one of the major challenges children in Yemen face in recent years, especially girls. Here are eight facts about girls’ education in Yemen.

8 facts about girls’ education in Yemen

  1. In Yemen, about 32 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 with 9 percent being married before turning 15. Due to poverty, girls in Yemen are being married off as a source of income. Marriage will reduce the cost of looking after girls and is believed to offer girls the safety a husband can provide. However, Girls Not Brides is an organization dedicated to ending child marriage. This organization aims to raise awareness of the negative impact of child marriages through open discussions with communities. It mobilizes policy to bring child marriages to an end and works to empower girls and offer them a support network.
  2. According to UNICEF, there is a significant gender gap in education in Yemen’s youth with males enrolled in primary school at 79 percent and females at 66 percent. However, UNICEF is working with the government of Yemen on decreasing this gap and improving the quality of education. The goal is to increase the number of girls enrolled in school. It is also working with other organizations to improve conditions for teachers in Yemen, which will increase access to education overall.
  3. The goal of the Secondary Education Development and Girls Access Project is to improve gender equity and quality of secondary education with a specific focus on girls in rural areas. This project works on improving and furnishing school facilities, providing learning equipment and resources and offering schools community grants. The project also aims to improve teaching and learning practices in classrooms and increasing girls’ participation. The project helped increase enrollment from 0.43 to 0.63 and increased the retention rate of 10 to 12-year-old girls to 85 percent from 78 percent.
  4. In Yemen, public schools are co-ed until grade four though girls and boys are usually seated apart from each other. Due to cultural and traditional beliefs, co-ed classrooms are not acceptable. Some families decide not to enroll their daughters in school because of the lack of separate classrooms.
  5. In Yemen, about 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas. In rural areas, school accessibility is a challenge. Some students must walk for more than an hour to get to the nearest school. The distance becomes longer in higher grade levels because some schools do not offer both primary and secondary education. For girls, schools must be at a culturally acceptable distance and location in order to attend classes.
  6. Due to violence and closed schools that began in 2015, more than 350,000 children couldn’t go to school that first year. A total of about 2.2 million children have been left out of school. However, in 2016, UNICEF was able to provide about 575,000 children with educational resources and psychological encouragement.
  7. Save the Children is an organization that protects children’s rights. It has programs such as education, protection, health and more. Save the Children was the first worldwide aid group in Yemen. This organization has set up temporary learning spaces for children, trained teachers and provided equipment. It runs learning programs for children who did not attend school to help them catch up. In addition, the organization runs educational programs for displaced children in camps.
  8. USAID is working with the government of Yemen to improve school attendance by make schools cleaner and safer. USAID is working to rebuild schools, improve curriculum and provide “safe and equitable access to education” through Yemen’s Transition Education Plan. USAID is dedicating $36 million to education in Yemen.

Education for girls still remains an unsettled issue today. However, through the efforts and determination of the government of Yemen and organizations such as USAID and Save the children, there is hope that all girls may get an education in the near future.

Merna Ibrahim
Photo: Flickr

The Elders' Advocacy in Africa
Created in 2007 by former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, The Elders is an independent group of global leaders that work together for social justice and human rights. The organization promotes advocacy through several different avenues including supporting ethical leadership and multilateral cooperation, assisting conflict countries and regions, enacting interventions for global health coverage and working with governmental leaders to enact justice for citizens. For its current activities, The Elders’ advocacy in Africa is particularly notable.

Girls Not Brides Organization

In 2011, The Elders created the Girls Not Brides organization, dedicated to ending child marriage practices. The organization is based in 100 countries and became an independent charity in 2013. The Elders member, Graca Machel, is co-founder and champion for Girls Not Brides. The organization’s efforts to improve the lives of women extends through the Elders’ advocacy work in Africa.

The African Union joined Girls Not Brides to support ending child marriages and initiated a campaign in 2014 that extended to 2017. The African Union’s and Girls Not Brides’ comradery resulted in 22 countries supporting their initiatives. By December 2017, these countries included Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, The Gambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. 

Advocacy in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe became part of the African Union’s campaign towards ending child marriages in Africa in 2015. Through its efforts, the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court banned marriages under the age of 18. Prior to the impact of Girl Not Brides in 2016, one in three girls or 31 percent married before the age of 18. In addition, 4 percent of girls married before the age of 15.

The Zimbabwean government held to its new principles, recognizing 18 as the minimum age for marriage. The Customary Marriages Act in Zimbabwe, which previously had no minimum age requirement, restricted legal marriage to 18 years of age in 2016. In 2016, the Zimbabwean courts also revoked provisions that permitted teenage girls to marry with their parents’ consent. According to a study by the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health survey in 2015, 77 percent of women between ages 15 and 19 were unmarried in Zimbabwe versus the 17 percent that were married. Through Girls Not Brides, the Elders’ advocacy in Africa helped extend to specifically benefiting girls in Zimbabwe.

Advocacy in South Africa

Beyond Girls Not Brides, The Elders’ advocacy in Africa also extends to supporting South African health reforms. On September 6, 2019, The Elders’ chair, Grace Machel, backed health reforms in South Africa on behalf of the organization. The National Health Insurance (NHI) reforms are being proposed by the current President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, to “improve publicly funded health care and build social solidarity.” The Washington Post cites that 84 percent of South Africa’s 59 million people lack medical insurance, further highlighting the need for reforms.

The South African news source, News24, describes that under NHI reforms, the government will implement a package of health services. The package includes health services for free at both private and public medical facilities. Health care could then be more accessible with state control.

The Impact of Personal Experience

The Elders supports these reforms as a chance for South Africa to create equality in its health care systems and reduce the corruption of private insurance schemes. The promotion of universal health coverage from The Elders comes from a place of experience in its home countries. Richard Lagos, former President of Chile, and Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway, spoke out about universal health coverage reforms and the benefits to their respective countries after periods of dictatorship. Lagos and Brundtland commented, while giving speeches in South Africa, that universal health coverage is key in rebuilding civic life. The advising of the South African government comes from personal experience, hoping to better the lives of South African citizens.  News24 cites that the NH1 reforms plan to go into effect by March 2020.

Overall, The Elders’ advocacy in Africa highlights the improvements made for citizens through the creation of Girls Not Brides. However, meetings and support for African governments bring positive change. This highlights the effectiveness and reasoning of why its meetings with African leaders are vital. Through The Elders’ efforts, Africa gains both concrete developments to help girls and provide support from a place of wisdom.

Natalie Casaburi
Photo: Pixabay

Sonita Alizadeh’s Feminist Advocacy
Sonita Alizadeh is a 22-year-old rapper from Herat, Afghanistan. She became an advocate for humanitarian issues such as child marriage in 2014 after winning $1,000 in a U.S. music competition where she wrote a song encouraging Afgan people to vote. Sonita’s music video “Brides for Sale” also premiered in 2014 on YouTube, kickstarting her career and garnering over one million views as of 2019. This article will focus on Afghanistan’s policies on child marriage, Sonita’s history and how Sonita’s advocacy is making an impact. All of these aspects highlight the importance of Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy.

Afganistan and Child Marriage

In 1997, the Republic of Afghanistan permitted girls under the age of 16 to marry with the consent of their father or a judge under a civil code. In 1994, the Afghanistan government set the minimum age of marriage to 18, and in 2009 passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law; yet people often do not implement protections. The advocacy organization against child marriage, Girls Not Brides, cites UNICEF’s statistics for child marriage in Afganistan as of 2017: 9 percent of girls marry by 15 and 35 percent marry by 18.

Child marriages that still happen in Afghanistan often occur for several reasons including a lack of female education, displacement, dispute settlements for rival families and traditional family values and practices.

Afghanistan has made progress such as making ending child marriage a sustainable development (SDG) goal by 2030. Afghan women, such as Sonita Alizadeh, are speaking out when the government is not helping them effectively. That is why Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy is vital; it gives the people that child marriage affects a chance to speak for themselves.

Sonita Alizadeh’s History

Sonita Alizadeh and members of her family escaped Taliban rule in Afghanistan and journeyed to Tehran, Iran. There, Sonita began creating music, although it is illegal for women to sing a solo in the country. Her music was about the hardships she had seen her friends endure in Afghanistan when their parents encouraged them to marry as young as 12.

Sonita had to advocate for herself at 16 when her mother visited her from Afghanistan. Sonita received the opportunity to return to her home country if agreed to marry. Her mother planned to have a dowry set with a man for $9,000 for Sonita as a bride. This prompted Sonita to make her first YouTube video in response to her predicament, the video “Brides for Sale.” The video got the attention of the Strongheart organization in the U.S. The group sponsored 17-year-old Sonita in 2014 with a student visa to attend Wasatch Academy in Utah on a full scholarship. Sonita’s first concert in America was in May 2015, and she began sending money home to her mother living in Afghanistan.

Sonita’s Activism

After moving to the U.S., Sonita Alizadeh used her platform to speak about child marriage. Her YouTube channel has 12 videos that range from her music to interviews to Sonita’s graduation speech from Wasatch Academy in 2018. Sonita uses her platform to educate the 11.1 thousand subscribers she had as of 2019. BBC listed Sonita as one of its 100 women people should recognize in 2015 and inspired a European documentary based on her life that premiered in 2016 and won a NETPAC Award.

Recently, Sonita debuted a new song at the 2018 Social Good Summit concert in New York City. As of 2019, Sonita attends Bard College in New York where she represented her school in the Women Warriors: The Voices of Change concert event at the Lincoln Center in September 2019. Organizations such as the Strongheart Group, Global Citizen and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization support Sonita’s Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy.

Conclusion

The voices of Afghan women are vital in battling injustice. Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy highlights the determination of one woman to empower women forced into child marriages. The light Sonita sheds on the hardships Afghan women are also valuable as a form of advocacy, making those who did not grow up with her background understand the needs of women in dire situations.

Natalie Casaburi
Photo: Flickr