Cape Town — Thank you so much and thank you so much for joining us today. My name is Memory Banda from Malawi. Sawubona wena. It is a great honour to stand in front of all of your great leaders coming from different organisations and to be here today to share different of the global challenges that we are facing today.
And the greatest challenge that we are all here for today is child marriage.
Let me start by sharing with you my own personal story. There were two beautiful girls and these beautiful girls were living under one roof, sharing food, sharing shoes, wanting to play together. Along the way, their lives turned into two different paths. And the story that I'm sharing you right now is not too different from so many stories of girls around the world. These girls as they were growing up, they faced so many challenges.
And at the age of 11, my younger sister was married off. And for me, it really brought a different way of looking things allowed me, I questioned a lot of things.
And one of them was, why would she be married off at such a young age? And I knew that I was going to be next. And I knew that the other girl beside me is going to be next.
There are so many traditional practices across Africa, that affect girls that actually deny their access to education. And girls every day are dropping out of school.
And my sister is one of them. When she was married off I said, What should I do next, I don't want to be the next girl. I don't want to be the next girl who goes to initiation camp, where you are trained how to sexually please a man.
After that, most girls end up being pregnant, or they end up dropping out of school. And on a special day in my culture, when girls at these initiation camps, they reach the day they call a special day. And a man who is hired by the community goes to the camp, rapes all the girls, and this rape is justified in the name of culture.
My question is, for how long will girls go through this? And through the questioning, I started to work with my fellow young girls, is there anything that we can do. And together, I mobilised a lot of girls in my community, and we stood together, and we said, we can change things together, we started building conversations, we started really sharing our stories with the community.
And we didn't know that by sharing our stories will change things for all the girls in my community, a small movement begun in my community, and from my community, it became a community movement, and from the district level movement, and we moved on to national level. And let me tell you, we were rallied by the amazing women, the women were behind us: "Go girls! Get the change done!
And most of you might be questioning, why is it that these women, they still let their girls go to the initiation camps and yet they know that by the end of the day is going to affect their girls. Remember, sometimes change can be really slow. And by the end of the day, these traditions are normalised and everyday we think it is okay. And these women thought it is just okay. Not until we stood up and they stood up with us to say we can change things around us. And we did.
We did not stop there. We went ahead and we asked questions. What does the Constitution say about this? And the movement went ahead. We started working with different lawyers, in my community, different organisations.
And in 2015, the law was changed, changing the law from the age from 15, and making legal marriage age from 18. And this was a big win for Malawi. It was a big win for Africa, because from such stories, a lot of other countries came to Malawi to learn how did you do it? And later on, we did not stop there.
We understood that there are so many things like in the Constitution, so many inconsistencies of the definition of who is a child. We went ahead and worked with lawyers we worked with activists together in 2017. All the qualities of defining who is a child was removed, and the parental consent was also removed because the Constitution they allow the age of 14 if you apply with your parent, parent allows it (the marriage) you can go ahead, and in 2017 on 14th February, it was a beautiful Valentine's gift that was also changed.
And a lot of you might be wondering where you is your sister now? A decade later. And let me tell you, such stories, too often, we think that A is equal to B. Sometimes that's not the case. I believe that if my sister was protected from the onset, things would have been way better for her.
I know that her life changed, she chose whom to marry. But a lot of challenges were left because going back to school became even difficult. And at the same time, so many things constrainted her from going on. But one thing clearly means she got her power back.
I want the girls into community to get their power back. And that's why we are all here today, to believe in the power that girls have in the stories of change, like the ones that I'm sharing with you today.
And I am so pleased to tell you that from this story, my own life as well changed. It also motivated me to go on, get an education. And I am happy to tell you, I'm all proud to say that I just completed my Master's in Project Management with Boston University.
I am so proud to be working with Save the Children International as an expert in child and youth participation. And this reminds me that girls can change their stories, we can rewrite the stories of so many girls in our communities each day, if we come together like this, if we continue to invest in girls, and I believe that the stories that you're going to hear today will motivate you to keep on pushing.
We don't have to be tired. And I believe that all the phenomenal speakers today will keep on motivating you. And I'm sure you will also have your voice out there to change the world around you. And I am so pleased today to introduce the phenomenal speakers. And one question I was asked how does it feel to be in the room with Michelle Obama, with Melinda Gates, and as well as Amal Clooney, and so many great leaders. Great job, Michelle. They're all here.
And I am so excited. And I'm sure your excitement is as the same as mine. It has been a drum roll to be with them in Malawi and to be here with all of you and it is my pleasure right now to introduce one of the amazing speakers.
Children's rights activist Memory Banda was MC and 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.