November 20, 2015

Activists and survivors to attend, available for interviews

New York—The African Girls Summit in Lusaka, Zambia, November 26-27, is expected to draw high-level representatives of governments, the United Nations, and civil society organizations to focus on collective efforts to address child marriage. The African Union launched a campaign to end child, early, and forced marriage earlier this year. The continent is home to 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of the practice in the world.

The African Girls Summit is a follow-up to last year’s first-ever Girl Summit in London, which drew global attention to the issue and resulted in commitments from several governments to invest in programs that empower girls and prevent child marriage and female genital mutilation. The African convening will build on this progress and also carry forward momentum gained from the recent Girl Summit DC, which concentrated on the United States’ role in the fight and on identifying and advancing solutions.

At the African Summit, the heads of UN Women and the UN Population Fund are scheduled to speak, as are senior representatives of African, European, and Canadian governments. The International Women’s Health Coalition, which co-sponsored Girl Summit DC, will be participating along with its Cameroonian partner, the Association to Combat Violence Against Women-Extreme North (ALVF-EN).

The ALVF-EN activists are working to change attitudes and practices in northern Cameroon, a part of the country where more than 70 percent of girls are married by the time they turn 18. They are available for interviews during the conference and have media experience.

THE ACTIVISTS

Sike Bille (pictured above), a feminist and women’s rights activist, founded the Association de Lutte Contre les Violences Faites aux Femmes (the Association to Combat Violence Against Women), known as ALVF, in 1991 in Cameroon’s capital city, Yaoundé. The group works toward a world where men and women can live together equally in both public and private spaces. In 1998, she opened a local chapter of ALVF and a drop-in women’s center in Cameroon’s Extreme-North, a region where gender-based violence was common, and women had little control over their bodies and lives. Because so many of their clients were women who were forcibly married at young ages and then abandoned by their husbands, in 2001, she helped some of them found the Association pour la Promotion de l’Autonomie et des Droits de la Jeune Fille/Femme (Association for the Promotion of the Autonomy and the Rights of Young Girls and Women), known as APAD, to support each other.

Aîssa Doumara was always a strong student, consistently among the first in her class. But when she was 16, her father pulled her out of school and married her off to a 37-year-old man. Within a year, she became pregnant for the first time. Undeterred by her domestic responsibilities, Aîssa convinced her husband to let her go back to school. Later on, after meeting Sike Bille, she helped to found the ALVF Extreme North chapter. She was determined to improve the lives of women and girls in her country and throughout Africa. Today she is a leading voice in the movement against child marriage.

BACKGROUND ON CHILD MARRIAGE

Every year, approximately 15 million underage girls worldwide are forced into marriage—a practice with disastrous lifelong impacts on women’s health, education, autonomy, and safety. Child marriage forces young women to leave school, limiting their educational and professional opportunities, as well as their potential for financial independence. And, without access to accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health, girls who marry young often have early pregnancies, raising their risk of pregnancy and childbirth complications, which can be fatal or leave them with lifelong injuries.

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The International Women’s Health Coalition advances the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people, particularly adolescent girls, in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. IWHC furthers this agenda by supporting and strengthening leaders and organizations working at the community, national, regional, and global levels, and by advocating for international and U.S. policies, programs, and funding. Learn more at www.iwhc.org