by student contributor Hannah Stambaugh
The Center for Global Development hosted Washington, DC’s first Girl Summit last week. The theme of the innovative one-day conference was Putting Girls First: A Focus on Solutions to End Child Marriage Globally. In the summer of 2014, the UK held the first international Girl Summit to mobilize national and international efforts to end childhood early and forced marriage (CEFM) and female genital mutilation (FGM). The event, co-hosted by UNICEF, inspired Washington’s CGD to collaborate with a series of organizations to hold the city’s own satellite summit on ending CEFM and CGD last summer. This year’s event drew several hundred practitioners, academics, and students and honed in exclusively on ending child marriage.
CGD partnered with the International Women’s Health Coalition, Girls Not Brides, Human Rights Watch, American Jewish World Service, The International Center for Research on Women, CARE, Promundo, and Population Council to put on the conference.
Girl Summit DC began with a panel on emerging research in the field, moderated by Daniela Ligiero, PhD of the United Nations Foundation’s Girls and Women Strategy. Panelists discussed what they each perceived as the most important piece of evidence and the prospects for evidence-based interventions. One of the themes that emerged in Panel 1 was the need to enact normative change. Without changing gendered norms, interventions like conditional cash transfer programs, even changes in laws, will not create sustainable differences for girls. Panelists also stressed the importance of quality girls’ education and creation of healthy safe spaces for girls to learn, collaborate, mentor, and grow.
The day’s second panel shifted from a larger, conceptual picture of CEFM to a more concrete discussion of effective programming in the field. Panel 2 echoed Panel 1’s imperative to keep girls in school and engaging them directly in the discussion of solutions. Danedjo Hadidja, President of the Association for the Promotion of Autonomy and Rights of Young Girls and Women (Cameroon) and a survivor of a forced marriage, and Giovanna Lauro, PhD, Deputy Director of International Programs at Promundo (Brazil), compared the different normative contexts in their respective home countries. Lauro said that unlike many regions where CEFM is common, many Brazilian girls are choosing to enter “consensual” unions, though the definition of consensual becomes very shaky when young girls are “choosing” to marry out of economic necessity. Girls living through CEFM the world over experience similar issues like limited mobility and decision-making capacity. This panel also introduced the necessity of engaging men and boys in gender equity work, focusing on the specific needs of women in girls in times of natural disaster and conflict, and building safe spaces for girls.
The day’s events concluded with a high-level panel on the US government’s role in ending CEFM globally. Rachel Vogel, Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, moderated. Panelists were Ambassador Cathy Russell (Office of Global Women’s Issues, U.S. Department of State), Carrie Hessler-Radelet (Director- Peace Corps), Susan Markham (Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, USAID), Dana Hyde (CEO, Millennium Challenge Corporation), and Angeli Achrekar (Chief of Staff, State Department Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy).
Girl Summit DC was an engaging and nuanced discussion of new research and promising practices to end CEFM. Speakers and participants from around the world,including survivors of child forced marriages, brought many perspectives and experiences to the table, highlighting progress that has been made as well as the many challenges still faced by the global community in ending child marriage.