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Protecting Childhoods and Empowering Girls: First Ladies Lend Their Platforms to End Child Marriage

October 9, 2015 5 minute Read by Natalie Gonnella-Platts

October 11 marks International Day of the Girl. First Ladies around the world are using their unique platforms to improve the lives of citizens in their countries, and many are taking up causes that have a direct impact on women and girls, like the issue of child marriage. The Bush Institute, through the work of the First Ladies Initiative , aims to engage First Ladies in effectively using their platforms by highlighting sustainable solutions and best practices, providing capacity building support, and fostering valuable partnerships that are making a difference in the lives of women and girls globally.

Every day around the world 39,000 girls are married.  Deprived of their ambitions with little to no personal choice, 15 million young lives are drastically altered each year. That’s one girl every two seconds, according to a recent report by Care.   Without action, recent UNICEF estimates anticipate the number of child marriages in Africa alone to double by 2050.

For the first time ever, concerns over child marriage are being prominently elevated at the global level, most notably as a key target of the Sustainable Development Goals launched in September at the United Nations General Assembly.  First Ladies especially are playing a visible role in bringing attention to the issue and the value of sustainable interventions, like quality education, in protecting childhoods and combatting forced marriage and abuse.  Recent examples include:

  • In January 2015, the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), pledged to elevate the issue at both the national and regional levels, advocating for legislation and resources, supporting national strategies, and promoting the role of men and the importance of gender rights in combatting the practice of child marriage.
  • In partnership with government agencies and private and non-profit partners, Mrs. Michelle Obama has advocated on behalf of the Let Girls Learn Initiative. Taking aim at gender-based violence, poverty and forced marriage, the program helps adolescent girls worldwide attend and complete school.
  • Mrs. Esther Lungu, First Lady of Zambia took a close look at the issue during her recent tours of local provinces, encouraging partnership between local and national leaders:  "Girls should be allowed to complete their education and should not be looked at as wives but as school going children who want to get an education”.

 

Lakshmi Sundaram, Executive Director of Girls Not Brides, recently joined the Bush Institute in Dallas as a speaker at the 2015 Global Women’s Network: A Summit of Ideas, Innovation, and Partnerships, that brought together advocates and innovators working to advance important issues for women and girls across the globe. Emphasizing the critical need for visible champions to address the far reaching reality of child marriage, Lakshmi noted:

The support of influential champions such as First Ladies is hugely helpful in efforts to end child marriage. Until very recently, child marriage was a taboo subject, particularly at a national and international level. First Ladies can help break that taboo by bringing attention to the practice, and also to the work of activists and young people in their countries who are working to tackle child marriage.”

From First Ladies to elected leaders to local advocates, we all have an opportunity to draw attention to this prominent and (once) overlooked challenge.  Marking International Day of the Girl and leveraging the building momentum around the SDGs, Girls Not Brides has launched a digital campaign to garner global support to end child marriage by 2030. #MyLifeAt15 “celebrates the dreams and ambitions we hold at the age of 15 in support of every girl having the opportunity to achieve hers, without child marriage holding her back”.

#MyLifeAt15 included Varsity track, a love of History and Civics classes, and the encouragement of my parents and teachers to explore my interests and fulfill my potential.  Like others with access to opportunities and support, especially quality education, I never had to comprehend the pressure of being forced to marry.  Unfortunately, this still is not a universal reality, but there is hope.

Thanks to the voices of global advocates (including current and former First Ladies) and the successful impact of public-private partnerships and sustainable interventions, there is greater focus on making child marriage inconceivable for all girls.

Natalie Gonnella-Platts is the Manager for the Bush Institute’s First Ladies Initiative. 

For further information on the First Ladies Initiative please visit www.bushcenter.org/firstladies.


Author

Natalie Gonnella-Platts
Natalie Gonnella-Platts

Natalie Gonnella-Platts serves as the Deputy Director of the Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.  In this role, Natalie is responsible for research and programmatic efforts that empower women worldwide to lead in their communities and countries.  The portfolio currently includes the First Ladies Initiative, the Afghan Women’s Project, and the Women’s Initiative Fellowship. Natalie leads the work of the First Ladies Initiative, which aims to enable and support First Ladies from around the world in effectively using their platforms to empower women and children in their countries. 

Natalie studied Communications and International Studies (Peace and Conflict) at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia. She earned an MA in War, Violence and Security studies from the University of Sussex in Brighton, United Kingdom.  Prior to joining the Bush Institute, she held roles in New York City at American International Group (AIG), and in London at ConservativeHome USA, the Legatum Institute, and BBC Worldwide.  She is also a co-founder of Each Inc., a non-profit that seeks to provide innovative technology tools to organizations that care for and protect orphans and vulnerable children globally, and has previously served as a project strategy advisor to Stop the Traffik’s Finance Against Trafficking initiative.

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