I wanted to share with you some pictures and words from an inspiring conference that I attended, and helped to organize, last week: the International Congress to Eradicate Early/Forced Child Marriage. Moussa Boucome, a French professor at my university, gathered a stellar group of politician, heads of and members of international NGOs. I don’t want to make a list here, but I was truly impressed by these people and their work, and I think that they are people worth looking up and familiarizing yourself with.
o Mrs. Aicha Bah Diallo, Former Minister of Education of Guinea/ Special Advisor to the Director General of UNESCO for Africa
o Hon. Dr. Nestorine Sangare, Minister of Gender of Burkina Faso
o Hon. Rosaline Oya Sankoh, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs in Sierra Leone
o Hon. Aida Mbodj, Senegalese Minister of Family and Women Organizations
o Mrs. Chantal Compaore, First Lady of Burkina Faso and president of the Foundation Suka
o Mrs. Condé Djené Kaba First Lady of Guinea, President of the fondation pour la promotion de la sante maternelle et infantile
o Madam Mariama Mane Sanha, First Lady of Guinea-Bissau
o Ms. Anne Goddard, CEO of Child Fund International
o Ms. Almas Jiwani, CEO of Frontier Canada Inc and President National Committee for UN Women, Canada
o Ms. Anne Kelly, Director of US UNICEF
o Ms. Jasvinder Sanghera, Founder Karma Nirvan, Best selling Author of “Shame” and “Daughters of Shame”
o Ms. Khady Koita – Author of Mutilee/Blood Stains, Founder of Euronet-FGM, Co-Founder – La Palabre
I would like to share with you an extract of the speech that the First Lady of Burkina Faso delivered the first night.
The social problem of forced and early marriage is a major challenge to sustainable human development in West African, including among them, Burkina Faso.
This conference is therefore a sign of solidarity with the thousands of women and girls who are victims of the practice.
These harmful traditional practices greatly hinder the development of the human person.
Female circumcision, inheritance of wives, marital rape, social exclusion and of course the early and forced marriages cut short the potential of the lives of thousands of girls and women around the world.
For decades, the state has partnered with civil society and developed many projects to eliminate these harmful practices and contribute to the welfare of women.
In Burkina Faso, the emphasis is on harmonization of national legislation with international conventions on the protection of children and women.
In addition to the existing legal framework, a lot of work information and community outreach is done by the ministerial departments in charge of these issues and the organizations of civil society. Laws that take into consideration the position of the female are translated into the national languages, French and are available to the population.
At the institutional level, in addition to the traditional role played by courts in protecting the rights of women, there are reception services, advice and guidance for women victims of violence.
These structures often provide technical and financial support through the provision of a lawyer, medical care, temporary accommodation for the victim.
The Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity has been implementing a project entitled “Eliminating child marriage in Burkina Faso” from 2008 to 2010 in collaboration with UNICEF, UNFPA, in partnership with Population Council.
Over 20% of girls involved in this project achieved significant results.
– The First Lady of Burkina Faso
We also discussed Female Genital Mutilation, since that is a key characteristic in many early marriages. Girls are removed of their genitals in order to become desirable for marriage. The work that the NGO No Peace Without Justice is doing is pushing for a universal ban on FGM. They believe that legislation is the first step to the veritable end of this practice. Meanwhile, Tostan has been reducing rates of FGM in West Africa for a while now, their work would not be able to continue without government support and would be strengthened by international legislation. On this topic, I would like to introduce the work of Khady Koita to you all, a woman that I grew to respect professionally and personally during our time at the conference. She wrote about her experience as a survivor of early marriage, polygamy, and FGM. Here is an interview about her book and activisim work.
As we continue to strive for the Millenium Development Goals, and a better world, I believe that more could be done if we focused on protecting girls. This is not only a human rights issue, this is a development issue. Half of a society is being stunted and oppressed. Should we not consider early/forced marriage and FGM violations of human rights but also as obstacles to sustainable development, as quoted from the First Lady of Burkina Faso?