The World’s First ‘Girl Summit’ Tackles Child Marriage & FGM

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The UK is on a roll! The British government teamed up with UNICEF for a first-of-its-kind conference called the Girl Summit, which was aimed at mobilizing domestic and international efforts to stop female genital mutilation (often referred to as “female circumcision”) and child marriages. These problems are happening in many western countries because of migration and the practice of traditions which go unnoticed by law enforcement.

“Girls and women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination and achieve their potential, but millions are being prevented from doing so by harmful practices such as FGM and CEFM, which are illegal in the UK,” said the UK government in a statement about this monumental summit.

“This creative, positive and engaging event will bring together women, girls and community leaders from the UK and overseas, alongside governments, international organizations and the private sector to agree on action to end FGM and CEFM (child, early and forced marriage) within a generation.” Celebrities such as Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Melinda Gates, Jennifer Hudson Cat Deeley have shown their support for this event.

The summit coincided with a report released by UNICEF which gave some pretty damning statistics on FGM and CEFM around the world, and how it is gravely affecting the lives of young girls.

Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – were married before 15. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. More than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of FGM in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful practice is most common.

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Thankfully they have seen a steady rate of decline over the past 3 decades, and they hope with continued education and awareness the shockingly high number will continue to go down.

let’s not forget that these numbers represent real lives. While these are problems of a global scale, the solutions must be local, driven by communities, families and girls themselves to change mindsets and break the cycles that perpetuate FGM/C and child marriage. We can’t let the staggering numbers numb us – they must compel us to act,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Girls are not property; they have the right to determine their destiny. When they do so, everyone benefits.”

Girl Summit was attended by British Prime Minister David Cameron, The Home Secretary Theresa May, Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening, as well as survivors of FGM and forced marriage.

David Cameron announced a new law which will make FGM illegal, and anyone failing to prevent a possibly case of mutilation can also be prosecuted. The new law will award victims anonymity for life – something that is currently only granted to victims of rape and sexual assault. This is a landmark ruling, and it follows on from the monumental decision made rcently in the UK which has officially declared forced marriage illegal, whether it is done in the country or abroad by a UK national.

“I want to build a better future for all our girls and I am hosting the Girl Summit today so that we say with one voice – let’s end these practices once and for all,” he said.

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During the summit the Ethiopian government announced it will put an end to child marriage and female genital mutilation by the year 2025. This is huge! “Our approach puts girls at the heart of our commitment, working closely with them, their families and communities, to end these practices for good and break the cycle of harmful traditional practices,” said Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen.

Apparently the national rate of FGM in Ethiopia has decreased by half among girls aged 14 and under, from 52 percent in 2000, to 23 percent in 2011 and the national prevalence of child marriage has declined from 33.1 percent in 1997, to 21.4 percent in 2010. While 2025 seems like a time frame too far away, we can only rejoice in the small victories that surface amongst so much heartbreaking information.

Two important short films were shown to those in attendance in London. The first was called ‘What Does Freedom Mean To You?’ which was a two and a half minute short comprised of a series of 15-second Instgram videos where people from all over the world shared what freedom looks, sounds, and feels like in their world.

The second was a 10-minute short documentary called ‘Female Genital Mutilation- A Change Has Begun’ made by Girl Effect, sharing important information about FGM and how it can be stopped by the younger generation growing up in a world vastly different from their parents and grandparents.

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It’s a summit which should’ve been around a long time ago, but with more global awareness of issues and media coverage worldwide, it seems we are going to see more and more organizations teaming up with government to tackle atrocities and crimes which have been going on for far too long.

We saw recently how the UK played host to the very first summit dedicated to ending sexual violence in conflict zones, hosted by actress Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague. These summits show us that these issues cannot be tackled by governments and non-profit organizations alone. Wherever we have the power to give, we can donate funds to help these people make a change where it is needed.

Using our voices to speak up, to share stories, and to create more awareness in our communities is another effective way for less people to turn a blind eye to these atrocities. And lastly, creating an environment of support is crucial. Some of us know women and girls who are victims and survivors of FGM and CEFM. Giving them the support they need is empowering them to use their experience to stop it from happening to others.

Check out the two documentaries below, and if you want to sign up to show your support online and spread the word about Girl Summit, you can do it on their website.

9 Comments

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