“Every girl has a story to tell – everyone has a role to play”
On occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child, the Government of Canada and Girls, Not Brides – in collaboration with UNESCO’s Division for Gender Equality – inaugurated an exhibition entitled Girls’ Voices: Speaking Out Against Child Marriage.
The exhibition – which will be up until 14 October at UNESCO Headquarters – addresses the issue of child marriage, a key theme to this year’s International Day of the Girl Child and also target 5.3 of Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In her opening remarks, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova stressed the global scope of child marriage as it crosses all regions, cultures and ethnicities. Despite some positive progress, every year 15 million girls are reported to enter a marriage before their 18th birthday. Some see marriage as a solution to escape poverty and other see the practice as part of a set of traditional and cultural norms.
Irina Bokova called to “draw on the full transformational power of education,” and take action to support those girls who are pressured into dropping out of school – deprived of an education or of a voice, and in turn of a life guided by their own choices and decisions.
Ambassador Elaine Ayotte of Canada denounced child marriage as a violation of girls’ rights, noting that “it disrupts their access to education, jeopardizes their health and makes them vulnerable to violence.” She praised the range of campaigns to end child marriage across continents, such as in Africa and South Asia and affirmed that “together, we have the power to change the futures of 15 million girls every year.”
Numerous UNESCO Member States also attended showing support for the mobilization of efforts on the issue. Ambassadors from Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal and Uganda took the floor highlighting the importance of speaking against child marriage.
The exhibition reveals the untold stories of girls such as Zinenani, Salma and Mamosala at risk of child marriage and those girls (and boys) like Meena part of the “Wedding Busters” who are standing up for their rights. It also shines light on members of the community like Humphrey who saw his own sister married off, and who is advocating for change. It illustrates stories from girls and women, boys and men across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
These stories accentuate the complexity and impact of child marriage on a girls’ life, and the often-overlooked links between child marriage and education, poverty or natural disasters.
The Girls’ Voices: Speaking Out Against Child Marriage exhibition was launched at the Commonwealth Women’s Forum in Malta and at the African Girls’ Summit in Zambia in 2015. Girls, Not Brides is a global partnership of over 550 civil society organizations in over 70 countries, committed to ending child marriage.
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