Six girl heroes ending child marriage in Africa

The African Union is making history by holding the first-ever African Girls’ Summit to End Child Marriage in Zambia.

It’s a huge milestone in the fight to stop girls being forced to marry too early. While many heads of state have already made commitments to ending this harmful practice, let’s remind ourselves how girls themselves can, and must, play a crucial role in their own futures.

When it comes to their future, many girls rarely get a say in it – about 37,000 girls get forced into marriage every day. But some girls across Africa have already taken remarkable steps to make sure they and their peers get the opportunities they deserve. Watch out, child marriage – these girls are out to get you.

The girls using radio waves to make change in Ethiopia

If you haven’t heard of Yegna, you are missing out on something big. The multi-platform drama, featuring the five dynamic characters of Melat, Mimi, Emuye, Sara and Lemlem, has been challenging the way people think about girls – and the way girls think about themselves – for more than two years.

Through compelling storylines, original songs and a weekly radio talk show, Yegna has taken on challenging issues, such as child marriage, and shown girls how to take control of their own futures.

Fan favourite Mimi is a survivor of child marriage and, in one hard-hitting storyline, she stands up to her former husband thanks to the support of her Yegna friends and bandmates. Confronting real-life issues such as early marriage has helped Yegna not only have an impact on girls’ lives, but also changed how boys and men view a girl’s role within Ethiopian society.

About 75 per cent of girl listeners say Yegna has helped them make realistic plans for their future and more than half of adult listeners have said the show has encouraged them to keep their children in school. These five amazing girls have created genuine social change. Keep up the good work, Yegna.

The girl who refused to be a child bride

As a child, Danedjo in Cameroon dreamt of becoming a doctor, but when she was 15 her family promised her to a man three times her age. This wasn’t the life she wanted.

Danedjo did something that had never happened in her village before. She said no to marriage. With help from a community worker, she escaped her wedding ceremony, but now Danedjo has returned to her village to make sure other girls do not face the same situation she did as a child.

And she’s just getting started. In November, she joined experts and policymakers at the Girl Summit DC 2015 to talk about the best ways to end child marriage for good.

The girl who said ‘no’ to tradition

In Maasai culture, a girl’s role is to get married and have children. But this is now changing thanks to the voices of brave young girls like Naserian.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in Kenya, but the tradition still takes place among some communities and is often the first step towards a girl becoming a child bride. This has led organisations such as Amref, in collaboration with local communities, to introduce the alternative rite of passage ceremony. This allows girls to celebrate their transition to womanhood without undergoing FGM.

This small step in Naserian’s community is huge progress in the battle to end child marriage in Kenya.

The girl who inspired Hollywood

When Aberash was only 14, a much older man kidnapped her to make her his child bride. She managed to escape by shooting him and running to safety, but she still wasn’t free. She was charged with murder and had to work tirelessly to prove her innocence. Despite her victory, she was exiled from her village and her family.

Sounds like the makings of a film, doesn’t it? That’s what Angelina Jolie thought, turning Aberash’s story into the film Difret.

The word difret means “courage” in Amharic, and it perfectly describes how Aberash has used her experience to spark positive change in her country.

The movie is just Aberash’s first step in eliminating child marriage in Africa. We can’t wait to see what she does next.

The girl breaking down walls with graffiti

Dieynaba discovered at an early age that society had a place for girls, and stepping outside of that causes problems. She loved to paint, but Dieynaba’s mother threw away her art supplies, as she believed girls shouldn’t be artists. From that moment on, Dieynaba has been out to prove her parents, and society, wrong.

In Senegal, graffiti is an art form regularly used to call attention to social issues, so it was the perfect tool for Dieynaba to challenge cultural perceptions of girls.

Using her artist name Zienixx, she has created graffiti to break down barriers and take on challenging issues, such as child marriage and education for girls.

The girl who forced the Malawi government to ban child marriage

Memory Banda is proof that sometimes all it takes is one person to say “enough is enough” to make a change. At just 11 years old her younger sister became pregnant at an initiation camp that primes girls for early marriage. After witnessing the challenges her sister faced, Memory knew she had to take control of her own future.

Memory took her fight to end child marriage all the way to the capital, but first she convinced her community to end child marriage. In April, Malawi passed a law raising the legal age of marriage to 18.

If girls like Memory can change laws, then leaders and policymakers at the AU Girls’ Summit have the power to end child marriage once and for all in Africa.