One of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had at CARE USA, was the chance to be on the organizing team for the Overcoming Challenges, Empowering Girls Capitol Hill event held October 10, 2017 in commemoration of the International Day of the Girl. Hosted by Girls Not Brides USA, FGM Network, House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce, and Congresswoman Betty McCollum, this signature community event was structured around a panel discussion moderated by Michelle, Nunn, CARE USA, with speakers Maryam Ahmed, Save the Children; Aubryn Sidle, AGE Africa; Yeva Avakyan, World Vision; and Quentin Wodon, World Bank. The event brought together over 150 policy-makers, girl advocates, civil society members, and the media to discuss and debate the unique challenges and opportunities faced by adolescent girls globally, and U.S. leadership in addressing them.
A rich discussion followed, with particularly interesting insights into the impacts of child marriage, and approaches to overcome obstacles; the economic case for action against child marriage, and learnings for the U.S Government as a leader in the movement to end child marriage. Drawing from her experience in Malawi, Mrs. Sidle emphasized the role of culture and social norms, and the need to work with women elders. She also argued that the U.S. Government must prioritize local organizations in grant-making, as they are equipped with the expertise, access, and networks for sustainable change. Mrs. Avakyan also stressed the need to work with communities, especially men and boys, alongside changing laws, as well as working with girls who are already married, and providing them with educational opportunities and health and social services. Mr. Wodon stated that child marriage affects the kind of work women do, and those who marry before 18, lose 9% of their earnings. He made the case for investing in education, and argued that if we ended child marriage today, we would see trillions of dollars of economic growth by 2030. 17 year-old girl advocate, Ms. Ahmed, discussed her experience advocating for girls’ education in Nigeria. She called on the U.S. Government to invest in girls-especially poor girls, marginalized girls, and disabled girls and include them in policy-making. All panelists agreed on the role of sexual and reproductive health and rights, empowering them with access to information, youth-friendly centers and honoring their agency.
Congressman Royce and Congresswoman McCollum also made remarks. Congressman Royce emphasized that the inclusion and empowerment of women and girls must remain a top U.S. foreign policy priority, and Congresswoman McCollum described child marriage as “culturally-sanctioned child exploitation” that results in coercion of the child and lasting physical, mental and consequences. She stressed that girls are integral to our global community’s peace, security, and economic growth, and she re-affirmed her commitment to work on girl’s issues.