Young Leaders Propel African Authorities to Deliver Actions to End FGM and Child Marriage .

Dakar/London, 26 June 2019 The first African Summit to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Marriage convened by the governments of Senegal and The Gambia, in partnership with the survivor-led NGO, Safe Hands for Girls, and with the support of multilateral organizations, including UN Women,UNFPA and the World Bank, took place in Dakar, Senegal on 16-18 June 2019. 

The Africa4Girls Summit was attended by 500 participants, and marks the first initiative bringing together leaders from all sectors - governments, religious leaders, traditional community leaders, alongside young civil society leaders, notably young women activists and survivors of FGM and child marriage. Ministers, UN leaders and Heads of State from 17 African governments attended the 3 day Summit. Religious leaders included the deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar Institute, considered the leading authority on Islamic jurisprudence, as well as representatives from Christian and other faiths.

The focus of the Summit was to catalyse cross-sectoral and cross-border actions, recognising that national laws against FGM and Child Marriage alone have not eradicated these harmful practices, which are deeply rooted in cultural norms, often undertaken in the name of religion.

The negative health and psychological impacts of FGM are borne by 200 million women, and a further 50 million girls are at risk of becoming victim. Some countries have seen up to 10% reductions in the practice of FGM through policy-led approaches, yet FGM still impacts between 15% and 95% of girls in 20 African countries, and change remains elusive in many such as Sudan, Mali, Djibouti and Sierra Leone. About 4 in 5 FGM procedures are conducted by traditional cutters.

39% of Africa’s girls are married before the age of 18. 13% are married before 15. The dangerous health impacts of early births, the removal of girls from education and other consequences are associated with the persistence of poverty for these girls and their offspring. According to the World Bank, not only does child marriage leads to billions of dollars in lost earnings ($7.6 billion is lost per annum in Nigeria alone), it also increases the cost burden to national healthcare systems. Child marriage is associated with higher maternal mortality due to early births, under 5 child mortality and malnutrition.

Highlights of commitments emerging from the Africa4Girls Summit included:

- Governments to promote laws and policies related to asset ownership, economic entitlement and family law in order to address the root causes of inequality that lead to the practice of child marriage, and to promote safer societies for girls and women. This includes consideration for funding legal aid and grassroots paralegals to educate communities on laws and rights relating to child marriage and FGM and that address the needs of married adolescents and FGM survivors.

Africa4Girls Summit lead co-ordinator, Jaha Dukureh, an FGM survivor and founder of Safe Hands for Girls, said “Without real mechanisms at the grassroots level, national laws will not translate to eliminating the scourge of FGM and child marriage by 2030, as set out by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. All countries signed up to these, including the 17 African nations represented at the Africa4Girls Summit. Legal aid, community paralegals and activism must come together to make policy a reality. Many countries have laws making child marriage and FGM a crime. But these things are practised in communities, often unaware of the national laws. Educating communities on their rights, engaging girls and families directly, should be an obligation. Otherwise, who does policy ultimately protect?” 

 - The announcement of a Fatwa (a legal opinion on a point of Islamic law) against child marriage was proposed by deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, Dr Salah Abbas. The translated text of the Fatwa states that “The age of 18 marks the stage at which a woman can validly express her will to marry. This guarantees that she can enjoy her fundamental rights to childhood, education and the capacity to assume the responsibilities of marriage. Before that age, she will not have had access to those necessary rights and is not able to assume the responsibility of marriage; and God would not impose on His servants an obligation that they cannot fulfil.” 

 « Marriage in Islam is based on the consent of both parties, especially the woman. The minimum age required to consent to marriage for boys and girls is 18 years old. » 

Dr Abbas said, Deputy Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif

 This latest Fatwa, along with Fatwas against FGM, issued by religious scholars over the past decade, offer guidance for religious leaders in Africa and across the world where child marriage and FGM are a scar on societies, including in countries with a significant diaspora community like the UK, Ireland and the United States. 

- Regional commitments are essential to enhance the integration of traditional and religious leaders’ role in mobilising community level reduction in the practices of FGM and child marriage. This includes improved data collection and qualitative metrics for measuring progress toward changing knowledge, attitudes and practices. The establishment of a robust inter-religious framework at a regional level is recommended as part of this process, to address the long-held perception that FGM and child marriage are associated with religious obligation in the African countries where they are practised. 

The Summit saw recognition by civil society groups and multilateral institutions, such as the African Union and United Nations, that prioritising resources towards grassroots efforts must be accelerated. Connecting high level efforts with grassroots and youth actions must be encouraged by funding and coordinating mechanisms, in support of the African Union Initiative on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, “Saleema”, announced at the AU Heads of State meeting earlier this year. Saleema is designed to galvanise political action to enforce legislation, increase financial resource allocation, and strengthen partnerships for the elimination of the practice of FGM. The Africa4Girls Summit commitment includes tangible outcomes, such as establishing awards for youth and civil society for innovations that reduce or eliminate FGM and child marriage. 

AU Youth Envoy, Aya Chebbi, said “Funding to end FGM and child marriage should not be a burden for youth-led organisations. The United Nations and the African Union need survivors, communities and young leaders, to deliver on their promises. Funding for youth leadership should not be the ‘hustle’. Our ‘hustle’ should be making sure that by 50 million girls do not undergo FGM and that 150 million girls are not married before they reach 18 years of age.”

- Investing in girls and women is a central part of Africa’s Transformative Agenda 2063, which, under Aspiration 6, calls for ending all forms of gender based violence, including female genital mutilation. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were signed by all countries at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, forming a commitment to action for governments, civil society and the private sector to reduce all forms of poverty and inequality by 2030. SDG 5 sets out the framework to “end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere”, with a specific target to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation” by 2030. 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, who attended the Africa4Girls Summit, said “I welcome the breakthrough achievements of this Summit, and the participants’ commitments to make the change that lie within their authority. We need all of society to take a stand on both FGM and child marriage to make sure that there are no excuses for harming women and girls in the name of religion, tradition or cultural beliefs.”

She added

“I am proud of our Regional Goodwill Ambassador Jaha Dukureh, who is leading a new generation of young African activists to bring their lived experience and ambitions for their continent to inform policy making and radically accelerate progress on ending these harmful practices. We all need to support and sustain these young leaders.” 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

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