Written by Maria Safari
The AU campaign to end child marriage launched in May 2014, and it aims to speed up
change across Africa by encouraging governments to develop strategies to raise awareness of child marriage and address the harmful impact it has.
The zoom meeting that occurred on 21st of July was led by Melissa and Farirai of Rozaria
Memorial Trust (RMT). A variety of issues were discussed. One of the biggest issues that
was discussed was the lack of youth in many advocacy groups. A lot of young women and girls are talked down to by elders in such meetings which prevents them from speaking up on issues they face. The meeting we had ensured young women and girls were in the forefront of the discussion. They did this by ensuring the older women and men muted their microphones until the end of the discussion which made it easier for the young girls and women to speak up. Youths need to be more involved as its easier for them to break down/empower each other better than elders can especially in topics like child marriages and FGM.
In the topic of child marriage, the issue of sex exploitation was discussed. The common
topic that was brought up by people from different communities was the fact that in low
income communities the male figures involved in the young girls’ lives tend to have
intercourse with them as a way of teaching them about sex. We also discussed the harmful practices girls are experiencing in their communities. Girls Voices which is an organisation in Nigeria recorded the highest rate of child marriages and Gender based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Kenya, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, teen pregnancies and child marriages were on the rise especially in low income areas.
In Cameroon, they also saw a rise in FGM, gender based violence and child marriages. In
many cases girls are often given off to marry from the age of 9 years and the men they marry are often in their 50s and above. When the girls have intercourse at such a young age they begin to develop various conditions such as Recto-vaginal Fistula as well as bladder infections.
Young girls and women involved in child marriages are often not allowed to go to school,
socialize with friends and in some cases, they’re not even allowed to cook. This impacts their mental health leaving them severely depressed. In a lot of communities, girls are not given access to contraceptives while sexually active and are denied their rights to sexual
reproductive health services.
This year’s AU theme is “Arts, Culture and Heritage”. We discussed how art can be used as
an advocacy tool. This can be done through music, paintings, poems, dancing, drawings by children, graffiti, photography, drama & skits etc. An example of art used as an advocacy tool that was brought up was the Kenyan musician King Kaka’s song called “Wajinga Nyinyi” which was used to address the current political situation in the country. Social media has also helped push messages in regards to the effects of teen pregnancies and also how the COVID-19 has affect the youths.
Vimbai Nyika of SRHR Africa trust gave a presentation on “Tips on how to adjust the new
normal COVID-19”. The main thing that she said which really stuck with a lot of us was that
we should “be a chameleon and adapt to our environment”. The tips she gave were: be
accepting of the situation, respond instead of reacting, give yourself time to process new
information, allow yourself time to adapt to change, be flexible, go easy on yourself and
manage expectations at work and at home, focus on what you can do, not what you can’t, set new routines that work for and your context and practice mindfulness and alway be in the moment.
At the end of the meeting, we came to the conclusion that men need to be involved and speak up on their role in the issues young women and girls are facing and they need to help stop the endangerment of women. We also said our Aunties need to help create safe spaces for intergenerational conversations by deliberately allowing their own vulnerability of their stories of struggle against patriarchy which would help younger women and girls to know that they are safe to share their own stories. They should also be willing to give up their power seats so as to allow younger women and girls to have their voices around tables of decision-making.