THE BLOG

Girl Summit Could Be the Beginning of a New Global Story

21/07/2014 17:44 BST | Updated 20/09/2014 10:59 BST

When ten-year-old Nujood Ali became the world's youngest divorcee six years ago, heads turned. This child was supposed to be learning at primary school and playing with friends. Instead she was married to a man more than three times her age.

But while this made the headlines at the time, not enough has been done to stop children being forced into marriage all around the world. Right now, a third of girls in the developing world are married by the age of 18, one in nine by the age of 15. About 14million girls are forced to marry every year. Some are just eight years old.

Social attitudes, beliefs and lack of legislation sustain this practice. Married so young these women and girls are subjected to rape, sexual abuse and violence. Their bodies are not ready for the trauma of pregnancy and labour. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 years in many low- and middle-income countries. This is not to mention having their childhood robbed, an abrupt end to going to school and prospects for accessing decent work later in life.

Child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM) are part of a broader picture of violence against women and gender inequality. And that is why the government's Girl Summit taking place tomorrow dedicated to tackling these issues is so important.

The government has already launched a £35million programme to support an Africa-led fight against FGM and now wants to replicate this to help stop child marriage. This summit, attended by Heads of State, ministers and experts from all over the world is an opportunity to do so.

While I am there, I will be thinking of women like Aliah from Yemen, who tried to run away from her new 30-year-old husband when she was 16, only to have her family beat her and force her back. Years later, those same widespread beliefs and traditions held in her community then forced her to marry off her own 16-year-old daughter.

As we gather at the summit we must remember stories like these. These practices violate the fundamental rights of women and girls. Making child marriage and FGM illegal is critical. But it's not enough if nothing is done to challenge strong-held beliefs passed down through generations. More must be done to work across different sectors to raise awareness on child marriage and FGM. And more must be done to strengthen women's rights and eradicate the gender inequality that drives these practices.

Aliah is already part of this, raising awareness in Yemen that child marriage is wrong. "My daughter and I were both victims," she told us, "but I refuse to be silent anymore." Oxfam will commit to action on this agenda at the summit. For example we will continue to support local organisations in Yemen to push for legal provisions for a minimum age of marriage and help challenge the attitudes that sustain this practice. With the country establishing its new constitution and a child rights act on the table, there is a glimmer of hope, if there is political will to address it.

Oxfam places women's rights and gender equality at the heart of what we do - in our programmes and our campaigns work. Oxfam will continue to press for a stand-alone goal on gender inequality in the post- 2015 framework, which addresses violence against women and girls.

The Girl Summit could be the beginning of a new global story to help put a stop to child marriage and FGM.