Welcome to day two of Women Deliver 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! Being here is so energizing and inspiring ALL THE TIME! Two days ago I went to a session organized by Girls Not Brides which is working to end child marriage within a generation. While listening to women from around the world speak about child marriage in their countries all I could think about was my own host family in Cameroon… In Ngaroundere my host mother was married at age fifteen. My host mother never was given the opportunity to go to school, but has created her own business making clothes and uses the money she earns to send her children to school. The most incredible part is that she has promised to let her three girls finish secondary school (high school) before they get married. This decision has changed the lives of her girls- who I know value education and who are determined to make a difference. One of them wants to be a “journalist without borders” when she grows up. The impact of these girls staying in school is enormous- the decision to discontinue the practice of child marriage in their family produced an immediate and tangible impact which convinced me that when given the opportunity, women deliver for other women- this thing called the “women’s movement” is worth our time.
While in Cameroon I was grappling with the concept of cultural understanding- I wanted to immerse myself in this community without judgement. Looking at these issues through a cultural relativist point of view has its merits (not judging but understanding). And for my host mother whose husband was kind and supportive, life after child marriage turned out alright. However, the panel with Girls Not Brides made me realize that the overarching reality is that child marriage steals opportunity and future from most girls forced to marry before age 18. Once married most girls are forced to discontinue school (if they were attending at all), and when they become pregnant, girls are five times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 20s. Check out http://www.girlsnotbrides.org for more information about how you can get involved with the fight against child marriage.
The awesome thing about being at the Women Deliver conference after my experience in Cameroon is that the once impersonal and foreign issues, such as child marriage, have become familiar and personal. After living with my Ngaroundere family, supporting Girls Not Brides not only seems like the moral or right thing to do, but it is supporting the decision of my host mother, and helping support my host sisters as they hopefully are given the opportunity to lead.