As the mother of a 13-year-old boy, I can attest that getting married is the furthest thing from his mind. Imagine being a 13-year-old girl preparing to wed a 50-year-old man? The fear, the helplessness, and the violation.
That is the reality for too many girls, in too many places in the world, including, until recently, Tanzania, a country where Crossroads International works. In 2016 a landmark case raised the legal age of marriage to 18. In July, the government appealed the decision. If successful, child marriage will be legal once again.
In Tanzania more than 30% of girls are married before their 18th birthday. Legislation has long existed allowing girls as young as 14 to be married. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a 2018 study by UNICEF and UNESCO found girls are more likely to be out of school starting at aged 15 and increasingly so as they get older.
Tanzania is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a girl: the threats of violence women and girls face, the limitations – and violations – of their basic rights, and the poverty that keeps women down.
Canadian volunteers are working with local partners within the bounds of the possible to enact change. They are helping girls stay in school, working alongside women who are lifting themselves, their families, and ultimately, their communities, out of poverty, and empowering women and girls and boys and men to assert their basic rights.
Courageous Tanzanians, such as Rebeca Gyumi, are pushing back. In 2016, Ms. Gyumi successfully challenged the constitutionality of child marriage in Tanzania, demanding the government give girls equal protection under the law. The High Court at the time agreed – ruling marriage under the age of 18 was illegal and directing the government to raise the minimum age to 18 for both boys and girls within one year. We are expecting the result of the government’s appeal any day now. That is why it is even more exciting to have Rebeca as our keynote speaker at Crossroads’ 8th Annual International Day of the Girl breakfast.
What is missing? Our voice. We can amplify voices of women and girls like Rebeca. International political pressure is needed. The world’s most vulnerable girls need world leaders to speak up.
And now, during a federal election, it is imperative that all Canadian political leaders to add their voice.
I encourage you to speak to your local candidates and ask them where they stand. What will they do to advance the rights of women and girls? Canadians know we are not immune to the violent rhetoric being invoked to attack women, or the roll backs in rights we have seen in too many places recently around the world. We must continue making progress. A recent Nanos Research poll revealed that 81% of Canadians agree we should be doing our fair share, to help those in the South. If you agree, let’s get started.