THE BLOG
26/10/2017 13:09 BST | Updated 26/10/2017 13:09 BST

The Day Of The Girl Is A Reminder To Redouble Our Efforts To Keep Girls In School And Out Of Child Marriage

Doreen (not her real name) was married at age 13. With Alice's help, she is now back in school. Photo: Eliza Powell/Camfed

Last week, on International Day of the Girl, I travelled to London to speak at the Institute for Government to a group of people deeply committed to girls' education and the leadership of young women. My speech focused on the urgent need to keep girls in school and out of child marriage by unleashing the power of young women once at risk of becoming child brides.

Let me tell you why this is so important.

One year ago, on the day that shines a spotlight on the vulnerability and the potential of marginalised girls, I wrote about the issue of schools failing girls. I wrote that child marriage is not only a reason for girls dropping out of secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa, but the result of school drop-out. I explained that many girls at the margins have lost one or both parents. They shoulder the burden of household chores, care for relatives, work other people's fields and often worry about their next meal. For these girls, although they are desperate to learn, secondary school is a long geographical distance and a long psychological distance away. They are the first to be failed by the system, and at serious risk of becoming child brides, locked away from a better future.

This was once to be the fate of Alice in Zambia, destined to be a child bride at 14, until Camfed stepped in. In some districts in her country, 6 out of 10 girls are married before the age of 18, some as young as 13. 46% of these young brides experience physical violence from their husbands. Aside from causing unimaginable suffering, child marriage creates health and economic crises. 36% of teenagers in rural Zambia, for example, are already pregnant or have given birth. One in 36 will die in childbirth, and 22% will contract HIV/AIDS. In addition child marriage locks away the tremendous potential in girls - female teachers, doctors, scientists, political leaders and role models... never to be realised. All of this perpetuates a cycle of poverty and injustice, and puts further pressure on under resourced systems.

Mary (not her real name), a double orphan in Zambia, was married at age 14. Her husband left her before their child was even born. Photo: Eliza Powell/Camfed

Alice escaped this vicious cycle. With the right financial and psycho-social support, she completed school, and joined Camfed's network of young educated women, CAMA, which I helped to establish in 1998. Alice started a business, trained others in business skills, and saw herself through university. Today she is a mentor and role model who supports 11 children to go to school, and works with schools and her community to end child marriage. As the UN Girls' Education Initiative Youth Representative, Alice brings her expertise to the global table. To me, Alice is a superhero, someone whose power to fight child marriage lies in her lived experience and the respect her community has for her achievements and her philanthropy. Now, Alice is looking forward to introducing a Camfed programme that will support thousands more vulnerable girls to access secondary school and train hundreds of young women graduates like Alice. As GirlGuardians, they will provide the additional support these girls need to stay in school, learn and succeed.

Alice with Faith (not her real name), one of the girls she mentors and supports to go to school. Photo: Eliza Powell/Camfed

GirlGuardians' powers come from their experience of breaking down the many barriers to girls' education, their deep roots in their communities, and the respect they command from girls and families alike. We turn these role models from heroes to superheroes by equipping them with additional knowledge: to advocate for girls' education and against child marriage with families and traditional leaders in their communities, and to deliver sexual and reproductive health and life skills training, career guidance and financial literacy sessions at their local schools.

It is this model of young women's leadership that the Rt Honorable Andrew Mitchell, MP, the former Secretary of State for International Development, paid tribute to on the night. In his remarks he shared his strong belief in the vital importance of girls' education, and the effectiveness and sustainability of Camfed's model. I am thrilled that Camfed was selected to receive UK Aid Match funding. Each GirlGuardian Camfed trains as a result of this appeal will reach and mentor 80 vulnerable girls. By doubling the public's donation, the UK Government will help us reach twice as many girls. Together we can end child marriage, and unlock futures for girls for good.

The UK government will DOUBLE ANY DONATIONS from UK residents to Camfed's #UnlockFutures appeal pound for pound between 11 October 2017 and 10 January 2018, helping us to keep twice as many girls in school and out of child marriage.

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The programme described by Fiona is based on Camfed's award-winning Learner Guide Programme. Camfed held an evening launch event in London at the Institute for Government on International Day of the Girl, 11 October 2017, hosted by Camfed Board Chair Miranda Curtis and CEO Lucy Lake. The event brought together Camfed partners, supporters and Ministerial representatives to hear from Camfed's African leadership, including Fiona Mavhinga, one of the first girls supported to go to school by Camfed. Fiona, now a lawyer, is leading on the development of Camfed's powerful alumnae association, CAMA, whose membership has just reached 100,000 -- a milestone celebrated this evening. Together they described the barriers marginalised girls in rural Africa face, and the solutions developed with CAMA's young women leaders, who deploy their powers to bring about lasting change.

About UK Aid Match

The UK Aid Match scheme is run by the Department for International Development, and brings charities, the British public and the UK government together to collectively change the lives of some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. For every £1 donated to a selected charity appeal, the government will also contribute £1 of UK aid to enable the charity to go further in changing and saving lives, up to a total of £5 million per appeal. Organisations must be UK-based, non-governmental and not-for-profit and be running an appeal set to raise at least £100,000, within a 3 month appeal period. Donations must be from people (not businesses) living in the UK and go towards an eligible international development project. For further information and guidance, please visit www.gov.uk/uk-aid-match.