UN Blog

Shifting Norms Around Child Marriage


By Arielle Thomas

I recently got the chance to attend an event at the United Nations called “Time to Uphold Women's and Girls' Human Rights in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: A Call from the Global South.” I expected this meeting to be similar to others I have attended – meetings that mainly address the need to “start a dialogue.” But this meeting was different; speakers offered shocking statistics and country focus pieces on topics such as sexual violence, rape, and child marriage.

The event started off with a startling fact: 14 million girls are married every year before the age of 18. Interestingly, 15 out of the 20 countries with a high prevalence of child marriage are found in Africa. Bob Mwiinga Munyati of AIDS Accountability International linked education and poverty to child marriage. He stated, “Child marriage reinforces the cycle of poverty, not only for the girl but for the entire community.” In Malawi, 1 in 2 girls are married before the age of 18. Munyati mentioned the promising movements which began in May 2014 within Ethiopia and Zambia to end child marriage, and reiterated the need to end the practice by stating that by pressuring young girls to ...

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Crossing for Peace


By Helana Reyad

I have attended several meetings that link the success of peace negotiations to the participation of women; however, there was one particular meeting that stood out to me. This meeting, entitled “Walking the Line: Women Cross Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for Peace” was part of a lecture series on women, peace, and security and took place on July 23, 2015.

The title of this meeting caught my attention and made me reflect on how non-violent, symbolic actions can contribute to peace. To those who identify with an area where there has been a military presence, the territory can encompass memories of war, trauma, loss, and death. Crossing over that line is a symbolic act of healing and reconciliation. The specific line discussed at the meeting I attended was the Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea.

Thirty international women peacemakers walked with Korean women, North and South, across the DMZ between North and South Korea as a statement to demand peace and reunification. This crossing is symbolic of bridging the divide that the Korean War generated for the Korean people more than sixty years ago. Propaganda has led to a focus on the military aspects of the ...

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Women Challenging Climate Change for a Sustainable Future


By Neghena Hamidi

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) High Level Political Forum meetings last week started off with a meeting on “Shaping the World for 2030: From Vision to Transformative Action” as representatives from member states and civil societies voiced their concerns on issues we need to focus on for the next 15 years in order to reach sustainable development. There was one issue that flew largely under the radar until Youth Representative Marwan Bishtari from the Pax Romana United Nations Advocacy team raised it. What is an issue that is going to affect our youth in the next 15 years? That issue is climate change.

As a global community, we are observing and feeling the effects of climate change. We have witnessed accelerated sea level rises, experienced longer and more intense heat waves, and dealt with agricultural complications caused by droughts and floods, which are making land less arable and its farmers less and less secure. It is no wonder that the world’s youth are actively concerned over this issue, as we will continue to experience its consequences over the course of the next century.

Although the effects of climate change impact all sections of society, they ...

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Ensuring Education, Not Child Marriage or Child Labor


By Arielle Thomas

On June 12th, I attended a meeting at the United Nations entitled “A Commitment to the Decade of People of African Descent: Rethinking child labour, ensuring quality education, not child marriage.” When I entered the conference room I immediately felt a very different energy than I had in other meetings. I could tell that everyone, including myself, was extremely passionate about the topic at hand: education. More specifically, the event focused on the importance of education and the negative, long term effects of child labor and child marriage.

For struggling families, children can be viewed as important resources. They often begin working at a young age in order to contribute to household income. Though this may benefit families in the short term, child labor results in a lack of education. Professor Leonard Muoghalu completed a study on the effects of child labor in Rwanda, Kenya, and Nigeria. He found that there are currently 400,000 child workers in Rwanda and 8.9 million child workers in Kenya. These children rarely attend school. In fact, the study showed that 41% of children engaging in survival sex work in Rwanda have never been to school at all. Child marriage ...

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Real Change at the Roots


By Shannon Morrall

Last month, I attended the 59th Commission on the Status of Women. I buzzed excitedly from event to event, trying to attend as many as I could in one day, hoping to learn as much as I could from this fantastic opportunity.

As I attended diverse meetings, recording the most telling statistics and quotes regarding improvements and challenges in the fight for international gender equality, I began to notice a pattern. My favorite meetings - and the ones I found most effective in sharing information - were the meetings hosted by smaller organizations. These organizations, whose speakers had experience working in local communities around the world, gave hard evidence and results of what does and does not work when helping women empower themselves.

While official UN meetings featured high ranking guest speakers and ambassadors, I found that often the speeches given there, inspiring as they were, seemed less solution-focused. I thought to myself, “The people in this room already know why gender equality is important. Now what are we going to do about it?”

This experience has reaffirmed my belief in the importance of organizations like VGIF and the grassroots, women-led organizations that VGIF funds. It was organizations like ...

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