Former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, global philanthropist Melinda French Gates, and leading human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, were in Malawi to support the fight against child marriage, advance gender equality, and learn how their three organizations can best support grassroots organizations and experts who are actively engaged in this work.
According to our partners at Girls Not Brides, a global network of organizations working to end child marriage, 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children. Malawi has been a leader in Africa and globally in tackling child marriage and drawing attention to the challenges adolescent girls face and working with adolescent girls to tackle these challenges. While Malawi has decreased the number of girls who are married by more than 20 percent over the past ten years, there is still more work to do as 38 percent of girls are still married before the age of 18. Despite progress in Malawi and globally, UNICEF reports that at the current rate, it will take another 300 years until child marriage is eliminated.
All three leaders champion programming initiatives in Malawi aimed at building girls’ power, actively contributing through their respective Foundations: The Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Clooney Foundation’s Waging Justice for Women program. During their time in Malawi, they connected with students actively engaged in the Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa (AGE Africa) CHATS program (Creating Healthy Approaches to Success). This after-school initiative is designed to empower students, foster academic achievement and impart valuable life skills. Mrs. Obama, Ms. French French Gates, and Mrs. Clooney also met with human rights champions from groups such as the Women Lawyers Association of Malawi and Girls Not Brides Malawi.
The three women are committed to continuing their work around the world, in partnership with local organizations, to eradicate child marriage and ensure girls and women have the power to make decisions over their own lives. In addition to furthering the impact of their work, they hope to inspire others to join them on their mission to ensure girls everywhere can reach their full potential.
“It was an honor to visit Malawi with Melinda French Gates and Amal Clooney and meet so many incredible women and girls who are working to end child marriage,” said former First Lady Michelle Obama and founder of the Girls Opportunity Alliance. “For the past five years, the Girls Opportunity Alliance has been working with leaders on the ground who are changing outcomes for girls in the country—including Ulanda Mtamba and her remarkable team at the AGE Africa program, who are making sure girls can delay early marriage and get the education they deserve. Every moment I spend with these leaders reminds me of the power we all have when we come together to make a difference, and I’m so proud to be able to join their effort in creating a more equitable world for us all.”
“It was so inspiring to be in Malawi with Michelle Obama and Amal Clooney to meet with leaders on the front lines of the movement to end child marriage,” said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Child marriage, like so many other issues, is a symptom of deeper problems such as poverty, a lack of education access, and gender inequality. But if more leaders invest in programs that empower women and girls, then we’ll make progress not only on ending child marriage, but on so many other challenges as well.”
“It is a privilege to be working alongside so many inspirational Malawian women in the fight to make child marriage history” said Amal Clooney, Co-Founder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice. “Child marriage persists because there are inadequate legal protections for millions of girls across Africa. And even in nations such as Malawi where child marriage is prohibited, girls cannot access justice. That is why the Clooney Foundation for Justice has partnered with the Women Lawyers Association of Malawi to launch mobile legal aid clinics: so that girls know their rights and get free access to a lawyer to defend them. I was honored to see this work on the ground in this beautiful country, and to join forces with inspirational leaders Michelle Obama and Melinda French Gates in doing so.”
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