“Let’s stop calling it marriage: It’s a crime.”
This sentence has come to my mind again and again since I sat in a packed conference room at the United Nations on Tuesday last week. Seated to my left was a girl, Maryam Ahmad from Nigeria, who herself had been a victim of this cruel violation of human rights. She seemed vulnerable yet remarkably firm and strong when she called for our joint effort to end it. “No one can talk about this issue as well as us. We’re the ones affected by decisions that are made.”
Zonta International was the only private sector partner of the Global Program to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage at the high-level meeting that joined many and very diverse people. All were united in fighting one of the most harmful practices afflicting women and girls. Among them were leaders and representatives of African states, the African Union, ministers of Canada, Great Britain and an ambassador of the European Union as well as leaders from UNICEF, UNICEF USA, UNFPA and UN Women. It was encouraging to hear from Zambian Chieftainess Muwezwa how traditional leaders, without whom the necessary cultural change will not happen, rally for a common goal.
Another comment that stuck with me: “People need to understand that marrying off our daughters will not get us out of poverty.” It was a spirit of commitment and collaboration at the table that felt energizing. I am glad that the clear vote of the delegates at the Yokohama Convention allowed us to partner with this movement that will benefit many, many girls and through them many societies.