“No one told me I had the right to say no,” said the activist Danedjo Hadidja, sharing her story of being forced into marriage at the age of 15 in northern Cameroon.
Danedjo joined nearly 200 advocates, policy experts, and U.S. government officials at Girl Summit DC 2015 yesterday, organized by the International Women’s Health Coalition and several other partner organizations. The event mobilized action to end child marriage globally and explored ways in which the United States is already fighting this practice and how it can advance these efforts. Every year, 15 million girls around the world are forced into marriage—which has disastrous consequences on their health, education, autonomy, and safety.
A high-level panel included leaders of several U.S. government agencies, including the State Department, Peace Corps, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Catherine Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, spoke about the forthcoming Adolescent Girls Strategy—an Obama Administration initiative to improve the lives of girls globally. The strategy will take a comprehensive approach to the needs of girls, from ending child marriage to keeping girls in school and ensuring access to health care, including sexual and reproductive health.
Empowering girls and young women was a consistent theme throughout the Summit. As Sike Bille, Founder of the Association to Combat Violence Against Women-Extreme North in Cameroon, noted, “We are working with girls so they can speak up and be witnesses, this is not about suffering in silence.”
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