A travelogue

At the end of October, IWHC brought four inspiring women from northern Cameroon to the United States to participate in Girl Summit DC and to advocate for the U.S. Government to do more to end child marriage. All of the women have been touched by child marriage in some way and are courageously tackling the issue, often under difficult and dangerous conditions.

Sike Bille and Aîssa Doumara of the Association to Combat Violence Against Women-Extreme North (ALVF-EN) and Danedjo Hadidja and Mairamou of the Association for the Promotion of Autonomy and the Rights of Young Girls and Women (APAD) have been fighting child marriage in local communities by empowering girls and young women and working with traditional leaders to challenge social norms. In the region of Cameroon where they’re from, upwards of 70 percent of girls are married before they turn 18. Aîssa, Danedjo, and Mairamou are survivors themselves and spoke powerfully about how being forced to marry so young impacted their lives.

Here are some highlights from their trip—which brought them from the highest halls of power at Capitol Hill to the High Line and Metropolitan Club in New York City.

Soon after they arrived in the States, IWHC held an advocacy and media training in Washington, D.C., to help them hone their messages and to prepare them to speak with policymakers and journalists. Because of the workshop, they felt well prepared for public speaking. For Danedjo and Mairamou, this was their first trip to the United States, and the first time they were talking to people outside of their region.

“We can now go on radio in our villages because we have had so much great training here,” said Danedjo.

On their first trip to the U.S. Congress, the women met with Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), who is a leading voice on ending child marriage globally. IWHC, its partners, and other advocates are calling on the U.S. government to step up its efforts to end the practice worldwide and to implement a plan that will address the needs of adolescent girls holistically.

The activists each shared their stories on Voice of America, in a feature that was broadcast on the radio throughout Francophone Africa.

Aîssa and Mairamou were featured in an Al Jazeera America news segment, which brought them to New York’s famous park, the High Line, for filming.

“We see the images of the victims, of the survivors, and I remember the situation that I went through myself,” said Aîssa of why she finds her work difficult and rewarding.

The four women were guests at IWHC’s Annual Dinner at the Metropolitan Club, where they spoke with IWHC Board members and supporters. Legendary photographer Bill Cunningham photographed Sike and Aîssa for The New York Times !

After several advocacy trainings, strategic meetings, and media interviews, our partners returned to Washington for the main event: Girl Summit DC. Here they are on the steps of the Capitol a few days before.

At the Summit, Sike spoke passionately about gender inequality being the root cause of child marriage and how important it is that we empower girls and amplify their voices. She was thrilled to have participated in the Summit and in the other meetings and events, “We were considered as experts and not just spectators which is often the case.”

Danejdo spoke on one of the panels and shared her own story: nearly being forced into marriage at age 15, managing to escape, and working now to stop this from happening to other girls in northern Cameroon.

“No one told me I had the right to say no.”

In between their meetings and events, they even managed to fit in some sightseeing.

Our partners clearly made a lasting impression with everyone they met in New York and Washington, and we at IWHC will take forward their insight and messages in our advocacy to end child marriage worldwide.

“We are not afraid of speaking out,” said Mairamou.

Next stop for IWHC and our partners: the African Girl Summit in Zambia and the Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights in Ghana.