On the International Day of the Girl Child, World Vision, CARE, Save the Children, the World Bank, AGE Africa, and the FGM Network joined members of Congress for the Overcoming Challenges, Empowering Girls event to address challenges and opportunities for gender equality worldwide.

Around the world, girls face significant challenges to their safety and well-being, particularly as they transition through adolescence. Some of these obstacles include harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), along with legal and cultural barriers to their continued education and economic participation.

The Overcoming Challenges, Empowering Girls event in Washington, D.C., was an opportunity to improve awareness of the primary challenges facing adolescent girls among policymakers on Capitol Hill, galvanize support from established champions and newcomers to the issue, and catalyze action around remaining challenges.

Yeva Avakyan, World Vision’s Lead on Gender and Social Inclusion, spoke about World Vision’s work and approaches to addressing child marriage and FGM/C. Yeva emphasized the link between FGM/C and child marriage as practices that have similar driving factors and consequences. “There are deeply ingrained social norms that hold both of these harmful practices in place: maintaining family honor, preserving virginity before marriage, the social integration of the girl and family, perceived protection of the girl, and financial security in situations of poverty.”

Child marriage can have a negative effect on the health of girls and their future families; it limits girls’ chances of staying in school or creating support networks. It increases vulnerability to emotional, physical, and sexual violence and limits their decision-making power.

“On a trip to Bangladesh, where 52 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthday, I came face to face with this issue. I listened to stories one after another about how these young women were forced to leave school and their families in favor of becoming the wives of much older men, and mothers bearing children while still children themselves.”

To address the issue of FGM, World Vision works to offer alternative rights of passages that shift the symbolic value of this transition from girlhood to womanhood. Instead, it builds girls’ agency and knowledge, opportunities for developing leadership and decision-making skills, and the ability to exercise their legal, economic, and social rights.

Our approach to addressing Child Marriage is anchored in the understanding that child marriage is both a form of gender-based violence as well as a predictor of different forms of violence. World Vision’s work includes changing social norms within families and communities, addressing structural factors, such as laws and policies, work with faith leaders that often sanction these unions, build girls’ agency, and promote economic development opportunities.

“One of my favorite initiatives works with fathers in India to promote their engagement in caregiving, connect them with their daughters, and be part of the network of male champions against child marriage in their communities.”

Harmful cultural practices such as FGM/C and child marriage may appear senseless or destructive. However, they have meaning and fulfill a function for those who practice them. We build our work on the recognition that this culture and meaning are not static. We also believe that individuals and communities can change attitudes and behaviors when they understand the hazards and indignity of these practices and when they realize that it is possible to give up harmful practices without giving up meaningful aspects of their culture.

Yeva Avakyan urged the U.S. Government to continue to invest in shifting gender norms, address FGM/C and child marriage as part of the continuum of violence that women and girls experience in their lifetime, address the unique needs of married children, and address these harmful practices with an engagement of a broad range of stakeholders. “Efforts to address FGM/C and child marriage must be integrated within a broader development policy framework that is anchored in a gender equality and women’s rights perspective.”

Act

One way to show your support for International Day of the Girl Child is by advocating for refugee girls’ education. Education offers opportunity, stability, and protection against hazardous child labor and early marriage – things children in refugee camps need most. In times of conflict, persecution, and displacement we must protect the most vulnerable, including girls. The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act (H.R. 2408, S. 1580) is bipartisan legislation that if passed, will prioritize access to primary and secondary education for displaced children, specifically girls. Ask your members of Congress to support the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act today.


Contact your government leaders. Fill in the information below to find your members of Congress.


Contact your government leaders. Fill in the information below to find your members of Congress.

Photo: Yeva Avakyan, World Vision’s Lead on Gender and Social Inclusion, spoke about World Vision’s work and approaches to addressing child marriage and FGM/C. © 2017 World Vision

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