Today, IWHC is joining world leaders and NGO partners at the Girl Summit to commit to do all we can to end child marriage and female genital mutilation. These practices are some of the most severe human rights abuses affecting adolescent girls. Annually, more than 14 million girls are forced to marry before they are ready, and 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade, with profound consequences for their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. At the Girl Summit, we are discussing what we as a global community can do to end these practices within a generation.
The challenge of ending child marriage is vast. The causes of child marriage are diverse. In some cases it is driven by poverty. In others, conflict. In others, concerns about adolescent sexuality and early pregnancy, as well as the powerful influence of culture and religion. The latter are also major drivers of female genital mutilation.
But one set of drivers is common for both practices, everywhere they occur: gender inequality, the low value accorded girls, and entrenched power structures that mean girls have little control over their own lives or futures. That is why efforts to end child marriage and female genital mutilation must first and foremost focus on girls, holistically. We must take a comprehensive approach to ensure that all girls are educated, healthy, economically secure and empowered to take control over all aspects of their lives. We must ensure that all of their human rights, including their sexual and reproductive rights, are respected, protected, and fulfilled. At the same time, we must work with families, communities and beyond to change attitudes and gender norms, achieve gender equality, and ensure a supportive environment for girls to reach their full potential.
One particular tool that can have a transformative impact is comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). When CSE programs have a strong focus on promoting gender equality and human rights, in addition to addressing harmful practices and educating young people about their bodies and health, they can have a powerful impact on the behaviors and attitudes of both girls and boys.
We must also work with girls that are already married, or who have experienced FGM, to make sure that they have access to ongoing education, health and support services. It’s particularly important to ensure their access to the critical sexual and reproductive health services they need to deal with the health consequences of these practices, prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and ensure that they can go through pregnancy and childbirth safely.
We know we can meet the challenge. We know from our partners on the ground, such as APAD in Cameroon, or Action Health Incorporated in Nigeria, what works to create the change that is needed to end these practices.
IWHC is committed to advocating with our partners to make sure these programs are funded, implemented, and brought to scale. We are also committed to advocating for national policies, U.S. foreign policy, and global development policies that prioritize the end of these practices. And we will not stop until child marriage and FGM do as well.
IWHC is at the Girl Summits in London and DC: follow @IntlWomen for live-tweeting and updates.
Photo: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development