‘How will you use your power for change?’ It was the first question Katja Iversen, President and CEO of Women Deliver, asked us during the opening of the Women Deliver Advocacy Academy. I was in a conference room in Vancouver with 98 changemakers from 49 countries and I felt a rush of excitement in combination with high expectations. It was a privilege to be part of this diverse group of people, joining forces in advocating for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women. Katja’s question was perfect to get us inspired, triggered, and feel empowered from the very beginning of our joint adventure.

From Nepal to Argentina, and from South Sudan to Maladives; we came from all corners of the world. While acquiring advocacy tools and practicing the different tactics; we learned from the different political processes and dynamics existing in our different settings. We shared ideas for advocacy campaigns and winning strategies.

Law enforcement to prevent child marriage

In a small group we constructed an advocacy strategy to tackle the issue that laws preventing child marriage are not properly implemented. This problem is recognized in many countries, and seriously hinders progress on ending child marriage worldwide. This challenge is also faced within Her Choice. In countries where the legal age for marriage for girls is 18, the reality is often very different. Pregnant girls are still forced to marry to avoid the shame for the family, and parents still marry off their daughters because of poverty and cultural tradition. The law is bypassed through informal ways of marriages.

Parliamentarians around the table

Our newly developed advocacy strategy was immediately tested during the Parliamentarians’ Forum. Alongside the Women Deliver plenaries and side-events, 52 members of parliament from 40 countries gathered in Vancouver to discuss the successes, challenges, and obstacles in advancing women’s and girl’s health and rights and delivering solutions for their advancement on a global scale. During the roundtable discussions, we debated the leading role governments can and should play in the development of an implementation framework for the laws that prevent child marriages.

The parliamentarians recognized the problem in their countries. Apart from criminalizing child marriages, they also expressed the need for solutions at community level to raise awareness of community and religious leaders about the existing laws and possible penalties when the law has been broken, and incentives for parents to keep girls in school. Governments and civil society have to join forces to transform social norms and traditional practices. As Her Choice alliance we mobilise and support communities to promote girls’ rights and gender equality, to achieve gender equity in education, decision-making and access to services!

I will use my power to…

So, let’s go back to Katja’s question. How will I use my power for change? Apart from the Advocacy Academy, I visited various sessions, facilitated a World Café session organized by Girls not Brides, and had interesting meetings and talks with so many people. But what really triggered me during Women Deliver 2019 was the power of youth! I want to use my power to strengthen the meaningful participation of girls in program design and implementation of Her Choice. Girls are the agents of change! They are the ones who should be empowered to take the lead towards a gender equal world where every girl can decide if, when, and whom to marry.

And you, how will you use your power for change?

This blog is written by Miet Chielens, coordinator of Her Choice at The Hunger Project.