September 21, 2016
Written by Crowd360 Coverage Team
The Clinton Global Initiative held the “Girl, Interrupted: Increasing Opportunity During Adolescence” session at its 2016 Annual Meeting to give a voice to the youth community that is often overlooked and underestimated. In a nod to the session’s theme, the panels comprised both seasoned experts as well as youth activists who have already made a huge impact locally and globally.
The CGI’s first panel, moderated by Chelsea Clinton, showcased the powerful Anita Azadileh of Afghanistan and Memory Banda of Malawi. Despite the fact that Anita’s and Memory’s lives began 6,000 kilometers apart, they both know what it is like to grow up in a society where little is expected of young women other than to marry early. Memory confirmed, “When a baby is born in [her] community, if it is a girl… she is told: ‘you are going to be a very beautiful wife.’” Memory stunned the room with tales of “induction camps” where young Malawian girls, some not yet 10 years old, are brought to learn about the life they’re expected to lead as young brides. Many return from “camp” pregnant or with HIV, and all are left traumatized.
Anita also silenced the room with the viewing of her harrowing music video for her rap song “Brides for Sale.” The video recounts Anita’s own powerful narrative, in which she narrowly avoids a child marriage herself by convincing her parents she didn’t in fact need to be married off at 16. Having escaped this outcome, Anita has been able to spread awareness about child marriage through art. Similarly, Memory, who refused this same fate at 15, used her platform to run a grassroots campaign that successfully raised the legal marriage age to 18 in her country and continue her activism alongside Let Girls Lead. Through this Rise Up program, she continues to hold governments accountable to their youth – especially girls.
In the session’s second panel, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards extended the scope of accountability for girls’ empowerment even further. Beyond those in public office, but leaders of NGOs and beyond must also play a role in ensuring youth voices are heard and youth needs are accounted for. She relayed the staggering statistic that if the 23 million girls without resources for family planning were granted access to these resources, there would be a 62% drop in adolescent pregnancy worldwide. Cecile underscored the importance of allowing young women determine their own fate, as Memory and Anita have.
Furthermore, this second panel, led by Women Deliver’s Katja Iversen, asserted the private sector’s shared responsibility to empower youth, especially young women. Sony’s CEO Kazuo Hirai sees supporting youth and gender diversity not only as the right thing to do but also the best way to utilize half of his workforce and maximize capital investment: “When it come to employment or enforcement, we can’t fail them.” Cecile agreed: “They’re going to be the economic engines, and already are in some countries, driving the globe forward.”
From economic benefits to social progress, empowering adolescent girls “can help us breed change for other young people,” as Anita has proven. She reflected on her and Memory’s past accomplishments and future objectives, underlining their shared common aim for Every Women, Every Child’s wellbeing: “Different language, different culture, same path.”