Shakira Amedi (15) from Makanjira is one of the girls who participated in an Annual Girls Conference which the More than Brides (MTB) Alliance – Malawi organised on 19 December, 2017. In her remarks after the conference, Shakira said that the conference has opened up her mind and she now believes that girls can really achieve a lot in life.

“The decision I have made is to be more focused and set my goals and I will also be an ambassador of girls education and promote their rights”, said Shakira stating what she has resolved to do after the getting the knowledge from conference.

Shakira said the conference made her aware of the laws that are there to protect and promote girls in the country. Shakira further said that she has witnessed a number of girls who have failed to achieve their goals because of negative cultural practices and social norms that subject them to unproductive lives. She cited issues of child marriage as one of the key practices that has ruined the lives of many girls and some of whom are her friends.

“Growing up in Mpiripiri village where I come from, girls think that all they can do in life is to become a house wife and bear children while all the economic aspect of the family is sorely left in the hands of their husbands”, said Shakira.
She continued by saying that; “due to this set up, school becomes less important and eventually girls marry young with older men who sometimes pass on leaving the young mother and her children suffering”.

Among other activities, the conference provided an opportunity for girls to ask questions on what the government is doing to end child marriages and other Gender Based Violence (GBV) issues. Among the respondents was the Minister of Gender Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Honourable Dr. Jean Kalirani as well as health care workers, District Youth Officers and District Social Welfare Officers from the targeted districts.

Furthermore, there were career talks as well as modelling sessions whereby Madalo Banda, a 27 year-old female lawyer talked to girls on various career issues and goal setting. The conference was also spiced up by drama performances, poem recitals, and sharing life experiences on SRH issues and child marriages. During the conference, some girls who were withdrawn from child marriages also gave testimonies about the negative aspects of child marriages.

The girls who participated in the conference described it as something that has helped them to have confidence and determination. Discussions with some of the girls after the training substantiated that the girls revisited their future plans and resolved to let the sky be the limit to their goals. One key thing that also came out is the resolve by the girls to work with other young girls in their communities in order to stand up against various rights violations they face including child marriage.

The conference that was held under the theme Promoting Girls Access to SRH: An End to Child Marriage was attended by a total of 60 young girls within the age range of 10 – 19. The girls were drawn from the impact districts of the “Marriage No Child’s Play” Project namely; Mangochi, Nkhata Bay and Mchinji. The project is being funded by Simavi and the implementing partners in Malawi are YONECO, GENET and Save the Children Foundation is providing technical support.

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