“The challenge with Yemen is this: it is a forgotten emergency.”
Lina Abirafeh is the Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women. She is an expert in gender issues in emergencies, with 20 years experience working in conflict, post-conflict and natural disaster settings around the world. She’s also an author, researcher, and influential voice in the global gender policy sphere. You can hear more about Lina’s work in her Ted Talk.
At the Women Deliver 2019 Conference, Girls’ Globe’s Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp had the opportunity to sit down with Lina. She shares her expertise on the situation facing women and girls in Yemen today, explaining that they remain disproportionately vulnerable, despite all of the rhetoric around preventing violence and protecting women.
“We literally don’t put our money where our mouth is, and I think Yemen has been the most stark example of that.”
Ashley asks Lina to explain how senior leaders like herself can ‘pass the power’ to the next generation of activists. Her answer? They already have it.
“I see that power already, what I do is hold up the mirror and show them the power they have. I think they don’t know what they’re capable of, they don’t see it.”
Lina’s voice is strong, clear and inspirational. Her final words are an important reminder to all those who feel passionately human rights and gender equality:
“Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has that microphone.”
Child marriage remains one of the most horrific human rights violations that exists today. It is estimated that globally 14 million girls are married off before the age of 18, robbing them of their childhood and leaving them vulnerable to violence, poverty, domestic slavery, sexual assault and HIV/AIDS. Child marriage is a human rights violation that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities.
The recent news coverage of the 8-year-old girl who was married off to a 40-year-old man in Yemen, poignantly highlights the desperate need to outlaw child marriage. After their wedding night, the 8-year-old girl – identified as “Rawan” – died from torn genitals and severe bleeding in the northwest city of Hardh. According to media accounts, the fatal injuries were incurred through sexual intercourse. Let me emphasize that it was NOT sexual intercourse. It was rape and it should be clearly understood as so. Rawan’s tragic story is sadly not unique and millions of girls die every year from injuries incurred from sexual violence.
Furthermore, as a result of child marriage, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Yemen has a high maternal mortality rate of 370 deaths per 100,000 live births. Reproductive health studies show that young women face greater risks in pregnancy than older women, including life-threatening obstructed labour due to adolescents’ smaller pelvises. The shortage of prenatal and postnatal healthcare services, especially in Yemen’s rural areas, place girls’ and women’s lives at risk. An overwhelming majority of Yemeni women still deliver at home, often without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant capable of handling childbirth emergencies. Girls who marry young often have insufficient information on family planning or worse, none at all. As young wives they find it difficult to assert themselves against older husbands to negotiate family planning methods.
Human Rights Watch reports that 14% of girls in Yemen are married before age 15, with 82% married before age 18. Child marriage is in fact legal in Yemen; however, in light of the recent cases and international media attention, Yemen Parliamentarians are calling for new laws which ban child marriage, set the minimum age for marriage at 18 ,and implement strategic measures to effectively enact the law. Speaking in an interview with CNN, Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s human rights minister stated,
Many child marriages take place every year in Yemen. It’s time to end this practice.”
In order to fully eliminate child marriage, awareness raising of the negative impacts of this human rights violation must be conducted. There are a magnitude of elements that contribute to child marriage including lack of awareness and understanding. One father who married off his young daughter spoke to Human Rights Watch and declared that if he knew then what he knows now he would never have married off his daughter.
In many cases, the reality of poverty plays a big role in the decision to marry off a daughter. Here are a few examples of how poverty impacts child marriage:
Marrying a girl child means one less family member to feed, clothe and educate.
The bride’s family receives a hefty dowdy/bride price for a young girl, or in those instances where the bride’s family pays the groom a dowry, they often have to pay less money if the bride is young and uneducated. Sometimes the daughters are actually sold to pay off debts.
Another huge determinant of child marriage is tradition. Child marriage is a traditional practice in many countries and cultures around the world, and breaking tradition can alienate families from the rest of the community. However in the words of Graca Machel, member of The Elders and a major contributor to the founding of Girls Not Brides,
Traditions are made by us – and we can decide to change them. We should be respectful but we must also have the courage to stop harmful practices that impoverish girls, women and their communities.”
One 11 year old Yemeni girl decided to break away from tradition and challenged her own parents when they arranged for her to be married to an older man. Nada al-Ahdal caught the attention of the world when she uploaded a three minute video on YouTube after she escaped from your family and took refuge at her uncle’s house.
The world needs more Nada al-Ahdal’s but can we really leave eight, nine, ten, and eleven-year-olds to defend themselves? Nada is one of the rare and lucky girls’ who successfully avoided child marriage but there are millions who are not so lucky. Hence, we need to make a change and advocate for child marriage to be fully outlawed and recognised as a human rights violation. Thousands of NGOs, human rights defenders, women and girls have been advocating to end child marriage for years and, although change will not come over night, we must keep on and remember the Rawan’s of the world.
Approximately 14 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year. According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), if present trends continue, 142 million girls will be married over the next decade. These facts and statistics are staggering. In a recent post, I highlighted the gross injustice and harmful effects that girls suffer as a result of this traditional practice.
Comprehending the issue of child marriage is overwhelming. The good news is:
The world is waking up to this injustice.
News stories, articles, television interviews and social media feeds have been flooded with one outcry:
Stop Child Marriage.
A recent change in Nigeria’s constitution, concerning the minimum age of marriage, has spurred on weeks of protests and controversy across the country. The Nigerian Feminist Forum responded immediately with a press release to explain the situation. On July 16, Nigerian Senators met to review a portion of the Constitution. An initial vote was cast to delete a portion of the Constitution which stated “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.” Senator Ahmed Yerima challenged the deletion and voted to keep the controversial clause.
It is important to note that the clause in the Constitution does not legalize child marriage. However, many activists are concerned that the clause legitimizes the traditional practice. According to the Population Council, 73% of girls in Nigeria are married before the age of 18.
In response to the Nigerian Senate’s decision, social media activists have launched the #ChildNotBride campaign and have captured the attention of millions. Activists, women and children are making a declaration, protesting online through social media as well as in the streets of Nigeria. Since the change in Nigeria’s Constitution, a petition to the United Nations in opposition of child marriage in Nigeria has spread rapidly.
In the United States, advocacy groups are calling for stronger relationships with governments and the private sector to better prevent child marriage and its consequences.
Nada al-Ahdal, an 11 year old Yemeni girl, has brought the issue of child marriage to the media forefront. In Yemen, 47% of girls are married before the age of 18. Nada’s recent Youtube video went viral, receiving 7 million views on Youtube over three days.
Nada argues against child marriage, insisting that she would rather die than be a child bride. The video is a public declaration in which Nada directly opposes her family’s wishes to marry her to an older man.
Fox News recently interviewed Ann Warner, Senior Gender Advisor for the ICRW. The world must overcome several challenges to end child marriage. As highlighted in the video interview, poverty and gender inequality are significant factors that lead to child marriage. Many families believe that they are protecting their daughters through early marriage.
The question still remains:
What will it take to end child marriage?
Global awareness is a good start. Now more than ever before, global citizens are becoming aware and taking action to prevent child marriage. On Tuesday, Girls Not Brides released a technical briefing on child marriage. This report highlights the necessary steps that must be addressed in order to bring an end to child marriage.
At Girls’ Globe, we believe promoting, enhancing, and expanding universal access to education and empowering youth advocates are essential components in the fight to prevent child marriage. We’ve done our part. Now it’s your turn. Spread the word about the consequences of child marriage and sign the petition to show your support.
Tomorrow is the day of the Nobel Prize, and therefore Girls’ Globe would like to acknowledge the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates who have been struggling to create change in their communities and to empower women to be agents of change for peace, democracy and human rights.
These women inspire us
to accept differences in each other, to meet people with harmony, to see the good in everyone and to be the change we want to see in our world. They inspire us with their dreams, their accomplishments, their goals and their struggle. Let us join these women in celebration and let us become global citizens and be a voice for women, peace, security and human rights.
The interviews below are taken from Nobel Peace Center, and hopefully, they can inspire you as well.
Interview with Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2011.
Interview with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2011.
Interview with Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2011.
"My sisters, my daughters, my friends — find your voice," - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, after collecting her Nobel Prize http://t.co/qNS8qlbe