When Nelson Mandela set about bringing together The Elders, he challenged us to act boldly and speak difficult truths.
On International Women’s Day, I want to share a story that requires us all to speak boldly, a story that touches taboos, traditions and family life, yet affects the lives of millions of girls every year.
Not long ago, we met a woman called Oureye who grew up in rural Senegal in West Africa. Oureye was first married when she was just 10 years old. By 14, she had divorced and was married again to a 55-year-old man. In line with tradition, Oureye’s daughter was also married young. Sadly, at the age of 12, she died in childbirth, her young body not ready to cope with the physical strain of labour.
It was not until she joined a local education program that Oureye understood that early marriage was a key factor in her daughter’s death. If a girl gives birth before she is 15, she is five times more likely to die during childbirth than a woman in her 20s. Oureye has since become an outspoken campaigner against child marriage, travelling across Africa, encouraging communities to abandon the practice.
Oureye is one of many who are working with the Elders for a world without child marriage. We want to reach out to community and religious leaders and ask them to help protect the rights of girls and women. We want to support the activists who are working for change at the grassroots and we want governments and global organisations to make the issue of child marriage an international priority. Together we want to end this harmful practice, because the lives of millions of girls depend on it.
Mary Robinson is a former President of Ireland and a member of The Elders, www.theElders.org.