By Jon Benjamin, British High Commissioner to Ghana
Girls and women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination and achieve their potential. Around the world millions are prevented from doing so by harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM).
Forcing a girl into marriage can rob her of the right to choose her own future, and put her at greater risk of not going to school and dying through early childbirth. Poverty, lack of education and social norms are among the root causes of child marriage. The African countries with the highest rates of child marriage include Niger, where 3 in every 4 women are married before the age of 18, and Mali and Burkina Faso, where 1 in every 2 women are affected.
The figures are slightly better here in Ghana but the issue remains a great concern. In Ghana, 1 in 4 women are married before the age of 18 years; 1 in 17 before they are 15 years old. CEFM is more common in poorer households and among those with little education. Education is one of the most powerful tools to delay the age at which girls marry.
FGM is a human rights violation and can have a lifelong impact on survivors’ physical and psychological health. The practice of FGM is almost universal in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt. FGM continues in Ghana despite the fact that there is a law against the practice. Nationally, around 4% of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 years have been subjected to FGM. In Upper East, 3 in every 10 women and girls have been subjected to FGM and in Upper West this is 4 in every 10. FGM has no health benefits but has harmful health consequences which include severe pain, shock, recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, infertility, newborn deaths and childbirth complications.
Things are changing. In the heart of communities and families around the world, more and more people are saying ‘no’ to these practices. Thousands of communities have chosen to abandon the practice and are encouraging others to follow suit. Many governments in developing countries are already working to end these practices and have passed laws and developed plans. In 2012, an African led resolution calling for a ban to FGM was passed unanimously at the UN General Assembly.
In London on 22 July 2014, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron will host the UK’s first Girl Summit, aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end FGM and CEFM within a generation. UNICEF will co-host the event. Ghana’s Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection— Honourable Nana Oye Lithur—will attend the Summit along with the Queenmother of Asante Mampong Traditional Area, Nana Agyarkomaa Difie II. The Girl Summit will bring together girls, women and community leaders from the UK and other countries, alongside governments, international organisations, faith leaders, civil society organisations and the private sector to agree on actions to end these practices. The summit will also share success stories and spread good practice in tackling these issues. It will hear from girls and women who have lived through the ordeal of FGM or CEFM, and from individuals from affected communities who are driving change so that other girls and women can enjoy greater opportunities in the future.
Ahead of the summit, please pledge your support to end these practices at www.girlsummitpledge.com
British High Commissioner