Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, AU Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriages and Secretary General of World YWCA shares best practices from Africa on Ending Child Marriages.
According to Nyaradzai, the word ‘marriage’ does not apply in the case of what is happening to young girlswho are forced into relationships they do not choose. She is still looking for a term to describe the brutality where a 10 year old girl is forced to marry a man the age of her grandfather.
“It is not marriage, it is a crime, it is abuse! We need a word to fairly describe what is happening to these girls. We are talking about a massive crisis, 39 000 girls abused each day globally, 15 million globally each year, and many of us were married when we were not ready to be mothers. It is a modern form of slavery, and of trafficking, and it captures the complexity of gender inequality and disempowerment in our societies at all levels. It shows the failure of our systems to protect the girl child.
It is unacceptable that Africa, rich as it is, should escape poverty by going into early marriage as a solution. It is a lack of basic services including health and education, as well as lack of control and power of women over their bodies. It is not just a social issue, it is an economic crisis and indicator of economic crisis at household level, an indicator of insecurity and of deliberate violence against women. What best practices do we have in this issue? Africa has sown the seeds of a best practice through its AU Campaign to end child marriages, but we are yet to reap the fruits. The AU campaign to end child marriages is a best practice grounded in the need to implement the Maputo protocol, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the Khama campaign, and it focuses on implementation at national level, and we need to emphasise and support it. We need interventions at national level to turn that wheel of forced marriages around.
We hear about interventions around the legislative human rights framework, it is good, but we need to do more. We need to work on interventions around the budget and resources side in addition to the legislative side. It is also about monitoring and evaluating the key global and national indicators around Agenda 2063 and around positioning the African adolescent girl. It is true for us to say the African Union is the only intergovernmental body globally that has a campaign to end child marriages, but we need to go above a mere campaign. We have a whole week for young girls to talk to heads of states, but a real campaign is when the girl child is on the ground and having impact, and results are measured when girls stop dying, when they stop to be exposed to the risk of HIV, and when they stop carrying babies who will die at birth. Girls must be at the centre of prevention, the support and the policy investment. They are not a statistic, they have solutions and they have to be there physically to express themselves and bring solutions.
We need safe spaces for girls who have been abused to show their faces and tell their stories. These girls still deserve protection even as they tell their stories so that our girls are not commodified. We need to be responsible for the safe spaces that we create for our girls to tell their stories. Lastly it is about engaging in policy work in a sustained way, and about engaging with traditional leaders in a sustained way. Changing norms takes time but we should not apologise for it. There is little work targeting girls in marriage who need an opportunity in life and who need a re-focus on their lives. It is about the 15 million girls married every year, which means 15 million adult men abuse girls every year. We need to move from male involvement to engaging our men for change. In addition there are another 15 million men authorising these marriages, and in total 30 million me supporting child marriages. This has to stop in the new Africa that we are creating."
Below are some of the stories shared by survivors of forced marriages from Zimbabwe and Malawi. Their names and pictures have been withheld for their rights protection:
“My name is Linda (Not her real name). I am fourteen years old, and I come from Malawi. I was married off at the age of 12, and at 13 I gave birth to a baby girl. I could not live with the husband because I faced a lot of problems, so I went back to live with my mother and father. My father started beating up my mother, and also beating me up. My mother ran away to the city and left me alone. I was desperate for help, so another man came and asked me to marry him. I agreed, because I needed refuge. The man turned out to be abusive again. I sought help form traditional systems around, until the YWCA heard about my hardships and got me out of my dilemma. I am now living with my grandparents. I have joined YWCA, and I look for work selling provisionals around on behalf of other people to sustain myself and my babies.”
I come from Zimbabwe, and I am 20 years old. I was married off at 16, and gave birth to a pre-term baby girl. At seventeen I gave birth to another pre-term baby boy. I had a vision become a lawyer but it was thwarted. I am married and staying with my in-laws. I have become a voluntary ambassador for no to child marriages campaign and get help from Groots Zimbabwe. I am working with local NGOs in my country to align the marriage Acts to the Constitution for the benefit of women.”
In closing her speech, Nyaradzai echoed the dream that all women currently share, "We anticipate the implementation of the African position on child marriages that African presidents will be adopting at this AU summit."
GIMAC has for the first time created an intergenerational space for young women and girls to engage with their elders to take issues up for political intervention and policy formulation. Well done Goodwil Ambassador Nyaradzai for presenting a real epitome of transformational leadership, and for mentoring the young girls to refuse patriarchal models and re-create the woman they want to be.