The first African summit to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage – Africa4Girls summit – recently took place in Dakar, Senegal.
The three-day summit was convened by the governments of Senegal and The Gambia and run in partnership with the survivor-led NGO, Safe Hands for Girls, and with the support of organisations including UN Women, UNFPA and the World Bank.
Africa4Girls marks the first initiative bringing together leaders from all sectors – governments, religious leaders, traditional community leaders, alongside young civil society leaders and,notably, young women activists and survivors of FGM and child marriage. Ministers, UN leaders and heads of state from 17 African governments attended, along with over 500 other participants.
The focus of the summit was to catalyse cross-sectoral and cross-border actions, recognising that national laws against FGM and Child Marriage alone have not eradicated these harmful practices, which are deeply rooted in cultural norms and often undertaken in the name of religion.
The negative health and psychological impacts of FGM are borne by 200 million women, and a further 50 million girls are at risk of becoming victims. Some countries have seen up to 10 per cent reductions in the practice of FGM through policy-led approaches, yet change remains elusive in many such as Sudan, Mali, Djibouti and Sierra Leone.
Ending child marriage
39 per cent of Africa’s girls are married before the age of 18. 13 per cent are married before 15. The dangerous health impacts of early births and the removal of girls from education are key contributing factors causing the persistence of poverty for these girls and their offspring.
According to the World Bank, not only does child marriage lead to billions of dollars in lost earnings, it also increases the cost burden to national healthcare systems. Child marriage is associated with higher maternal mortality due to early births, under-five child mortality and malnutrition.
The Africa4Girls summit made these commitments to end FGM and child marriage:
- Governments to promote laws and policies related to asset ownership, economic entitlement and family law in order to address the root causes of inequality that lead to the practice of child marriage, and to promote safer societies for girls and women.
Africa4Girls Summit lead co-ordinator, Jaha Dukureh, an FGM survivor, founder of Safe Hands for Girls and founding leader of The NewNow said: “Without real mechanisms at the grassroots level, national laws will not translate to eliminating the scourge of FGM and child marriage by 2030, as set out by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. All countries signed up to these, including the 17 African nations represented at the Africa4Girls Summit. Legal aid, community paralegals and activism must come together to make policy a reality.”
- The announcement of a Fatwa (a legal opinion on a point of Islamic law) against child marriage was proposed by deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, Dr Salah Abbas. The translated text of the Fatwa states “the age of 18 marks the stage at which a woman can validly express her will to marry. This guarantees that she can enjoy her fundamental rights to childhood, education and the capacity to assume the responsibilities of marriage. Before that age, she will not have had access to those necessary rights and is not able to assume the responsibility of marriage; and God would not impose on His servants an obligation that they cannot fulfil.”
During his speech at the Summit, Dr Abbas said: “Marriage in Islam is based on the consent of both parties, especially the woman. The minimum age required to consent to marriage for boys and girls is 18 years old.”
- Investing in girls and women is a central part of Africa’s Transformative Agenda 2063 (a framework for inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa) which calls for an ending all forms of gender based violence, including female genital mutilation. The Sustainable Development Goal five sets out the framework to “end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere”, with a specific target to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation” by 2030.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, who attended the Africa4Girls Summit, said: “I welcome the breakthrough achievements of this Summit, and the participants’ commitments to make the change that lie within their authority. We need all of society to take a stand on both FGM and child marriage to make sure that there are no excuses for harming women and girls in the name of religion, tradition or cultural beliefs.”
She added: “I am proud of our Regional Goodwill Ambassador Jaha Dukureh, who is leading a new generation of young African activists to bring their lived experience and ambitions for their continent to inform policy making and radically accelerate progress on ending these harmful practices. We all need to support and sustain these young leaders.”
Jaha Dukureh, lead co-ordinator of the Africa4Girls summit, is the founder of the NGO Safe Hands for Girls and one of nine founding Leaders of The NewNow. The NewNow brings together a collective of nine rising global leaders tackling some of the toughest challenges for humanity and the planet. The NewNow exists to amplify, develop and support extraordinary rising global change-makers, to sustain their leadership and to inspire others over the long term. In the process, they are building a new order of global leadership.