This speech was delivered by our Ethiopia Team's Kiram at the Voices of Youth parallel session at the First African Girl Summit in Lukasa, Zambia, on the 27th November 2015.
My fellow young men and boys, advocates, representatives, and change seekers – like stories we have heard here today, many more are happening at this very moment out there. We have to be morally responsible for this. We are gathered here to stop such stories - we need to see a change so we can ensure a better future for our sisters and daughters.
Indeed, child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are human rights violations as has been boldly tabled over the course of our Summit here in Zambia. The practices, however, stem from ‘harmful’ social and cultural norms. They are also perpetuated by a misunderstanding of religious traditions, and a lack of economic opportunities. They have overwhelmingly negative consequences for the health, education, and equality of our sisters and mothers - women and girls.
I am from Ethiopia, a country where child, early and forced marriage and FGM is still a hot issue. I work with a major media house in my country.
Raised as a lone brother in girls dominated family, I believe that my two sisters have a lot to do with who I am today. I happen to be a young man who supports girls, who is passionate about true activism - activism that hits at the core of the issues.
I am also the co-founder of Youth For Change, a global youth-led coalition of young people working in partnership with organizations and governments to create positive change. We aim to ensure that young people’s voices be heard in the battle for girls’ right. Half of the world’s population is now below 25 - as a youth team we are the shakers and makers of our bright destiny.
We as Youth For Change – we speak about change – in fact, I believe change is inevitable! But I think time is short. A generation from now there would be another generation of young girls and women affected by these practices – another mother, another sister. I have a sister, I have a mother and as a man, a brother, a friend, and as a son I should not feel pity or indifference about this situation. Rather I should act as it is my moral duty as a boy to do so.
So why are we stressing the role as men and boys to end child marriage and FGM?
The world is made for both men and women and the strategies we are drafting, the Sustainable Development Goals, the protocols are for all of us to live by, but you would have to be blindfolded to deny that these processes are dominated by the rule of men.
Let us accept that we – both men and women are part and parcel. We share our world, it was not given just to men only. Too often sidelined as “women issues”, action on these harmful practices stagnates at the periphery, with considerable lip service paid, but little tangible actions by us – men and boys.
Many men out there still fail to understand their roles and responsibilities in working toward ending child marriage and eradicating FGM from our common world. We have to grasp our reluctance to become involved. We have to analyze how the limited engagement of men and boys men and boys constrains and inhibits the change we dream for.
Fellow young advocates, representatives, change seekers – Brothers!
Our engagement counts! We have to clearly understand the negative effects of perpetuating child marriage and FGM in our world and the potential positive ramifications —for ourselves —for women and the whole world of empowering women. We need to respect women and girls and work together with them as our equal.
There is this important saying, ‘behind every successful man, there is a strong, wise and hardworking woman.’ This couldn’t be more! We need to turn this around and make sure alongside every successful women is a strong, wise and supportive man.
Brothers and fathers!
For me – as a journalist – I use my skill and the media to fight against gender-based violence and wider inequality. I would like to borrow the words that, in dark times people need light and the media at its best can provide it.
Of course media has helped to break down walls of prejudice, ignorance and powerlessness and for it has role in many cases. The media has realistically a better space on the fight. But we as media providers have to be ensure we are trustworthy and provide valued and change-making information.
We need to use our position of power to share and amplify the voices of girls – those most affected by such harmful traditional practices.
In order to initiate and better promote our involvement as men and boys from here, critical examination of media and privilege and current constructs of our communication strategy are also necessary.
Whether we speak about key stakeholders - including governments or civil societies and others - to promote action at all levels in all fields in paramount. Our increased contribution is crucially important to furthering the fight against child marriage and FGM. We need to be role models within our communities.
Finally – “It is always better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness!”