Africa: '1, 2, 3. A Girl Has Just Been Married. And We Can Keep Counting' - Girls Not Brides CEO

4 December 2023

Cape Town —


Good afternoon, everyone. How are you? Are you excited to be here?

It's so great to see all of you, and my cards are falling because I like to speak with my hands, which is a very good thing we do in Africa here.

My name is Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell. I'm the CEO of Girls Not Brides, the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. I love stories like Memory because stories like Memory remind us why we are here.

They are really powerful wake up calls for us to know why are we working to end child marriage, but Memory and I know that her story is not unique.

It's actually not isolated story because 12 million girls are married every year globally. That is one girl every three seconds.

One, two, three. A girl has just been married. And we can keep counting.

By the time we are here for the one and a half hours we are going to be here, 1,800 girls are going to be married today. That is happening in real time. That is what we are talking about. But I'm so excited that we are talking about this.

I'm actually so excited that Mama Graca is in the room because many years ago in 2011 you joined The Elders. Some of them are departed, but you join them. You dared to stand up, you dared to lend your voice to these conversations. So we owe you that, we owe you and thank you.

And they came together with our CEO and Founder, Princess Mabel van Oranje. She was supposed to be here but she couldn't come because of family emergency.


They joined together with those powerful men and women who have some of them left us and they built the Girls Not Brides, the global movement to end child marriage.

Girls Not Brides is a movement which believes that we don't need one person. We do not need one leader. We need so many leaders to work with us so that we can bring change at a global level, bring change at the national level and bring change at the community level where we are.

And that is why we are here today.

Today, you're going to hear from powerful experts who are going to share the stories of the efforts they are doing. But we know the efforts we are making are under threat.

Today, there is climate change, there is conflict, there has been COVID. All these things are coming together to put girls at increased risk of child marriage. So our work is much harder.

We need to accelerate change, we need to accelerate our efforts, UNICEF is telling us, we need to accelerate our efforts by 15 times. And I panic when I hear that because I hardly get enough sleep, because there is so much work.

But last week, and this week, and then few months before, I was so excited when we were joined by Mrs. Michelle Obama, we are joined by Amal Clooney, we are joined by Melinda Gates to come and say: We are with you. We are working together.

And yesterday, we sat around a table and had an intimate conversation. And we held hearts together. And we said we are going to work together to end child marriage, to see a world where girls can make a decision, whether they want to be teachers, whether they want to be politicians, whether they want to be lawyers, so that the only label they have is not calling themselves wives. That is our mandate.

That is our call today that we leave here so inspired and believe that child marriage must end.

I talked about Girls Not Brides and I said this is our philosophy, we believe that we need to create awareness at the global stage, this conversation cannot stop, this conversation cannot die.

It has the risk of being stopped because there is so many competing headlines. It's our responsibility to keep child marriage on the global headlines.

We've been trying to do that, we have passed UN resolutions, we have passed many Human Rights Council resolutions. But those are just pieces of papers and great words, the only way those words can make a meaning is if we go back to our villages, wherever we come from our spheres of influence, and we be the agents of change.

So my charge to each and every one of you is not just to sit here and have a great conversation is to go back to the people you care about, your sphere of influence, and tell somebody.

If they ask you where were you in Cape Town? Tell them I was in Cape Town to meet some amazing women.

But we are also talking about child marriage.

Don't forget that statement. Sometimes we forget. So please do that.

The other thing we believe is that change happens needs to be driven locally. The local people know the tools, know the changes which happen, they know what are the levers we can pull so that can happen. The other thing we know and we pride ourselves is that the girls themselves are the champions of change. We must empower the girls so that we became the become the change we need to be.

Today I'm not coming here alone.

We have lots of people. We have our staff, we have our colleagues, we have activists, but most importantly, we have our colleagues from Girls First Fund. This is a foundation which is working and bringing resources to the frontline workers and you are going to meet some leaders this afternoon.

They are going to tell you some of the work they are doing every day.


We also have Vow for Girls, which is an opportunity where they work with the industry, the wedding industry, and other corporate organisations, so that they can raise much-needed resources to end child marriage.

But we have you as well. And I'm so excited that all of you are here. So I'm not going to take so much time. I'm going to say we have a powerful conversation this afternoon.

I am so excited. I'm sure you can see it. I am so, so excited that we have been joined by such powerful women.

But we also need to be joined by some powerful men too, isn't it? Because men are part of the allies. They are part of the solutions. They are not perpetrators. They are champions.

So we need to also fight some men to come together and really,really spearhead this work. But let's not talk about men right now let's talk about the women who will join us here later ... Amal Clooney. We are going to be joined by Michelle Obama and we are also going to be joined by Melinda Gates.


They have said: We believe you, we are with you, we are going to work with you, and we are going to raise the flag. And they are really following the agenda which was set forth by Mama Graca here and I want to say once again, Asante Mama, you've been such a great champion, we owe you big time, and we'll make this happen, and we will end child marriage.

Have a great afternoon and we will chat later. And stay excited!

Faith Mwangi-Powell, CEO of Girls Not Brides, the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, was a speaker at the End Child Marriage event led by African icon Graca Machel, founder of The Graca Machel Trust and The Foundation for Community Development, Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the U.S and founder of the Girls Opportunity Alliance, Melinda French Gates, global philanthropist and co-chair of the Gates Foundation, and Amal Clooney, leading human rights lawyer and founder of Clooney Foundation for Justice.

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