One year ago this month, South London's Walworth Academy welcomed a group of guests with a unifying belief - that female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) can and must end within a generation. On Wednesday 22nd July, we celebrated the progress made over the past year - Youth For Change Panel Member Eleanor was there to capture the event.
Girl Summit 2014 was co-hosted by the UK government and UNICEF, and attendees included over 600 campaigners, NGOs, activists, government representatives, civil servants and heads of state. The event marked the moment that the silence surrounding FGM and CEFM was well and truly broken, and done so in front of a global audience.
The Girl Summit Charter has been signed by 43 governments and has led to significant change. Existing laws have been enforced; Egypt prosecuted a case following a death associated with FGM and Kenya has seen 30 arrests, and new laws have been created; Nigeria passed a law to ban FGM in May this year. Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Mali, Yemen and Zambia have started legal reforms to end child marriage, and Malawi has raised the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18.
In the UK, the Government has funded a £1.4 million national FGM Prevention Programme, introduced new FGM civil protection orders, and plans to carry out a national inspection into the police’s response to Honour Based Violence.
Girl Summit 2014 also inspired a new wave of determination from campaigners, activists and NGOs. Existing organisations such as Girls Not Brides, FORWARD, Care International, Integrate Bristol, The Orchid Project and Rosa have accelerate their work on FGM and CEFM - new movements like The Girl Generation and Youth For Change used Girl Summit as a springboard to join the fight.
The mood of the Girl Summit Anniversary event was therefore, quite rightly so, one of celebration. Gordon Campbell, Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, set the tone for the evening with a quote from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”. Since Girl Summit the government of Canada has provided more than C$1.6million to over 70 grassroots projects focused on CEFM around the world, and has contributed C$20 million to UNICEF.
Secretary of State Justine Greening reiterated the UK Government’s commitment to fighting for and protecting girls’ rights - here in the UK and around the world. She assured the room that girls and women will stay at the very heart of DFID’s work – this reflects her consistent commitment to #YouthForChange over the past year, which we couldn’t be more thankful for!
“We’re going to keep fighting this battle, with a growing number of other countries, with more and more campaigners, until we win it for good, for girls.”
The highlight of the evening were testimonials from my fellow panel members. Fatima, Ifrah, Harry, Muna and Daniel each spoke to the room about their journey before and since the Girl Summit – and about how YouthForChange has made sure that young voices remain at the heart of global efforts to end FGM and CEFM.
Deeply personal – and immensely powerful – each of their stories focused on the fact that Girl Summit provided young people with the chance to be heard. Muna put it simply: “Girl Summit was about giving young people a real, true voice”. Looking forward, Fatima told us that “in working together, supporting and celebrating each other, we can create a ripple effect for lasting change”, and Ifrah outlined the global commitment required from this point onwards: “No one should be able to opt out of education that protects girls”. They spoke with conviction and clarity and proved, just in case anyone had missed the point, that youth voices are invaluable to development conversations.
This event made me feel proud and excited to be part of Youth For Change. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to reflect on the success and progress of the last year whilst at the same time ensuring that we don't lose momentum. Without a focused, persistent effort from those with decision making and influencing powers, the number of girls around the world facing a future filled with violence and discrimination will continue to rise. For Youth For Change, the next year promises to be as difficult and as rewarding as the last.
Make sure you watch this space - we're only just getting started.
Interested in more information about progress made since the Girl Summit?
Check out Girl Summit’s ‘One Year On’ update report,
Read Youth For Change UK team member and girls' rights campaigner June Eric-Udorie's article for the New Statesman.