In February, I was honored to become the third president in the International Women’s Health Coalition’s 28-year history. My first 100 days are soon coming up, and I am simply awed by the work of the Coalition and its courageous and visionary partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Let’s take, for example, our work to end early and forced marriage. This is one of the many battles we fight to support women’s and girls’ rights and health, often in the face of regressive forces aligned against women’s rights and health.
At the local level – In Cameroun, almost half of the girls under 18 are married off by their fathers, often against their will. These early marriages usually end girls’ education and put them at very high risk of complications and death in pregnancy and childbirth. IWHC supports APAD (Association for the Promotion of the Rights and Autonomy of Women and Girls), a local organization that educates communities about the intrinsic human rights of girls, including the right to choose when and whom to marry. Led by young women who escaped or avoided early and forced marriage, APAD empowers survivors and works to stop these marriages before they occur. They do this by building skills for young women, changing cultural values through collaboration with religious and traditional leaders, and educating parents.
In Washington, DC – As a leader of Girls Not Brides: The US Partnership to End Child Marriage, IWHC commends the United States Senate for passing the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, which is a rare victory for women and girls. This is a critical step in upholding the rights of adolescent girls around the world, and in shielding them from the harmful practice of child marriage, which often has devastating consequences for girls, their families and their communities. We now look to the Administration to ensure that sufficient attention and resources are directed to girls most in need to prevent more marriages from occurring and to support married adolescents. Ending early and forced marriage is key to ensuring the health and rights of girls and women and a higher standard of living for them, their families, and their country.
At the global level – With women and youth from around the world, IWHC is fighting to ensure that international agreements include funding for important programs that save women’s and girls’ lives and protect their rights and health. These include contraceptives; maternity care; access to HIV services; and age-appropriate sexuality education, which teaches gender equality and provides accurate health information to young people aged 10 to 24 who often have little, or no, understanding of their bodies.
Leading IWHC is a great responsibility and I am indebted to its former presidents, Joan Dunlop and Adrienne Germain, for their vision and dedication to women’s rights and health. In the upcoming year, I look forward to building on their legacy and that of our partners.
Controlling one’s body and fertility is key to everything else in a woman’s life. Please support us generously, so we can do even more. Thank you.
President, International Women’s Health Coalition