In the developing world, one in three girls is married before the age of 18, one in seven before she is 15. Yet each year a girl stays in school, it boosts her future income by 10 to 20 per cent. And women are likely to invest 90 per cent of their income in their families.
Taken together, child marriage may be one of the most critical root causes of injustices facing women and girls. This is the main reason behind The Elders’ new campaign which was launched in late September at the Clinton Global Initiative gathering in New York.
Elders members Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson were joined by founding partners and donors Ford Foundation (represented by Luis Ubiñas) and NoVo Foundation (represented by Jennifer Buffett) at an event to express their goals and priorities for Girls Not Brides, which includes the following (as quoted from the press release):
- Building Girls Not Brides into a fully-fledged partnership organization, with at least 150 members running programs in at least 20 countries by December 2012.
- Raising US$3 million to ensure the functioning of the partnership and the creation of a secretariat, and to seed activities to end child marriage in priority countries.
- Establishing a network of donors to support programmes to end child marriage worldwide.
Nike Foundation (known for their popular ‘Girl Effect’ movement) is among the founding partners of this initiative, which has since added the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society Foundations to their list of supporters.
There has been much ado about donor collaboration, especially in the past year. It has been the subject of numerous reports and the theme of the March 2011 issue of Alliance magazine, and the European Foundation Centre and its American cousin Council on Foundations both released studies on this subject in 2011.
Also, the recent Mama Cash report on funding for women and girls published earlier this year made an attempt to get these issues on the radar of foundations, specifically those in Europe. This study reported that 90 per cent of foundations surveyed were keen to support initiatives affecting women − especially violence, poverty and access to education, all of which are intersecting issues with child marriage.
Girls Not Brides brings these two issues together − donor collaboration for a core issue affecting women and girls. This presents a great opportunity perhaps, but will European foundations and philanthropists join the movement? Or will they see this as yet another overly publicized idea like the ‘Giving Pledge’, which is less in line with the private and quiet inclinations of European philanthropic culture?
I am, as usual, cautiously optimistic. Efforts to introduce this to European foundations might be worth a try.
Filiz Bikmen is director of programs and international relations at the Sabanci Foundation and a member of the Governing Council of the European Foundation Centre