Have your say on girls’ rights
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Do you believe in every girl’s right to marry who they want, when they want and to live safe from violence? Speak out to ensure that youth voices on these issues are heard at the highest level.
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Isabelle is a member of the youth panel for the upcoming Girl Summit (19 July). She is passionate about girls’ rights and effecting real change for girls and women across the world. She has just returned from volunteering in India for three months.
Recently, I was chatting to a friend about sex and relationships.
We are both 20-year-old women. I’m from the UK and have a boyfriend, with no current plans to marry or settle down. It’s a situation I’m happy with. My friend Sandhiya, however, is from India and hopes to have a ‘relation marriage’ – an arranged marriage to her first cousin. She is also very happy.
Arranged marriages provide the chance for both members of the couple to give consent, or say no, to the match. Sandhiya wants to marry her cousin and she’ll be 25 when the wedding takes place. She has a college diploma and enjoys her working life. Although arranged marriage seems alien to me, it is a socially and culturally important practice that is not necessarily detrimental to the lives of women. In India 90% of marriages are arranged.
But what if Sandhiya had no say about her husband? What if she were too young to make an informed decision about her future? What if she were forced into a marriage that she didn’t want?
That situation is not as uncommon as you may think. One third of the world’s girls are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that marriage should be “entered only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses”. If people are not yet 18, can their consent really be considered “free and full”?
When I went to India with the government-funded International Citizen Service programme, my experiences there made me think about what it means to be a woman and what else I could do to help improve the lives of girls and women around the world.
Soon after my return I was given the opportunity to be part of the youth panel for the government's upcoming Girl Summit, which will take place on 22 July. The summit is focused on stopping the harmful practices of child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM). Its other key focus is ending female genital mutilation (FGM), an issue that affects many countries including the UK, where over 20,000 girls are at risk of FGM each year.
As these are global issues, it is imperative that we have global contributions. Although our panel is made up of a diverse mix of UK and international members, we need your ideas and opinions to understand and tackle these issues in the best possible way. That’s why global children’s charity Plan UK is leading a youth consultation, supported by the UK government and UNICEF, asking for your opinions on CEFM and FGM. Please contribute by completing the questionnaire and use this resource pack as a guide. Your responses will be used to create a mission statement that will be presented at the Girls Summit Youth Event on 19 July and read at the summit on 22 July.
This mission statement will influence international policy makers and charitable organisations. It’s a unique opportunity for your voice to be heard at the highest level. Together, we can change the lives of girls and women around the world.
Isabelle and the Girls Summit youth panel.