The groundbreaking Girl Summit held in London last week which saw the UK Government team up with UNICEF to tackle the awful issues of child marriage and female genital mutilation has been a great platform for all sorts of people to speak up about the topic and share why it is more crucial than ever not to ignore it.
Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who comes from a country where child marriages and honor killings are still all-too prevalent, shared her opinion on why empowering girls is beneficial not just for females, but for men and boys also.
“It is estimated that more than 700 million women worldwide were married as children. More than 130 million girls and women have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is concentrated,” she starts off by saying. Priyanka recently spent time with some school girls in Mumbai who all spoke about their dreams for a life where they hoped they wouldn’t be forced to marry before the age of 18.
“These young teenagers, who were attending a program to help build enterprise and networking skills, are testament to what has become abundantly clear: empowering and investing in girls and protecting them from harmful practices is the surest path to progress.”
“Child marriage and FGM destroy childhoods, disrupt schooling, leave girls at higher risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes, and contribute to a cycle of poverty.”
However she does say the progress is more evident than ever, with the Girl Summit leading the way for talks between global government heads, non-profits, and even former victims themselves. Priyanka mentions the campaign launched by the African Union in November 2013 which is dedicated to implementing laws and strategies to end child marriage.
With landmarks laws being passed in Ethiopia which outlaw child marriage, and even in the UK which have made both FGM and child marriage punishable by law, it is showing that this issue doesn’t just concern one group of people, it affects us all because the more we speak up the more things can change.
UNICEF stated at the summit that education and awareness of the damage of both these crimes against humanity go a long way to decreasing the numbers stated above. The younger generations of women feel more empowered to tell their mothers, fathers, grandmothers and village elders who swear by these traditions that there are serious health and psychological ramifications of FGM and child marriages. These conversations have attributed to declining numbers reported over the past 3 decades.
As many as 30 million girls around the world still face the risk of genital mutilation in the next decade, says UNICEF following a study of 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where this is most prevalent. A total of 125 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM. A report states some of the side effects of child marriage include hypertension, anemia, post-partum hemorrhage, premature birth, and STDs.
“Many of the solutions are found within communities and societies themselves. These community-led solutions should be shared, supported and spread to showcase that empowering girls also improves the lives of boys and men,” says Priyanka, echoing how important it is to speak up.
She ends by saying education is the single most powerful tool in preventing crimes such as these. The earlier boys and girls have access to real information, the less likely they are to carry on dangerous traditions.
“We know that education raises economic productivity, reduces poverty, lowers infant and maternal mortality and helps improve health. In other words, as the girls in Mumbai reminded me of, investing in education and protecting the rights of all children – girls and boys – is the best investment in the future for all of us.”
Three cheers to Priyanka for choosing to speak up and lend her voice to these issues which affect the lives of millions of women and girls globally. It’s easy to ignore such depressing facts and figures, and just bank on the “other person” to sort it out. But the least anyone can do is speak up, and stand up for an issue which deserves more attention.
Like UNICEF has shown, the more voices that are added to the growing conversation, the more we will hopefully see these crimes be abolished once and for all.