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