LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Educating fathers and sons is key to ending child marriage, the father of Pakistani girls’ rights activist Malala told an international summit, revealing that five of his sisters were child brides.
Ziauddin Yousafzai, a teacher, said his sisters were among more than 700 million women alive today who were married as children. Nearly half of child brides are in South Asia.
Yousafzai, who has become a champion of girls’ education since Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for promoting girls’ right to education, said fathers have a crucial role to play in empowering their daughters.
“We should redefine and revisit what a role-model father means, what a role-model brother means. Why should I be a different father to my son and a different father to my daughter?” he told the Girl Summit in London.
The gathering was aimed at galvanising a global movement for ending child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Britain’s international development minister, Justine Greening, said one of the best things about Tuesday's summit was that so many men were there.
“We should never lose sight of the fact that it’s the attitudes of men and boys and their role in the solution (which) is just as important as anything else in tackling child marriage,” she added.
The 500 delegates from 50 countries included senior ministers, U.N. officials, grassroots campaigners, community workers and faith leaders.
Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union’s special representative for human rights, said changing the attitudes of men and boys was also crucial for ending FGM.
The ancient ritual, which is practised across a swathe of Africa and in pockets of the Middle East and Asia, is seen by many as a gateway to marriage. Girls who are not cut are often ostracised by their communities and regarded as unclean and unmarriageable.
But campaigners say outlawing FGM won’t end it; you have to persuade the entire community to abandon FGM so that men - as well as women - understand it is harmful, and so that families are happy for their sons to marry girls who are uncut.
“If we’re going to change FGM and child marriages we don’t simply need to educate girls and women, we have to educate men and boys,” Lambrinidis said. “We don’t simply change laws, we have to change hearts and minds.”
FGM survivor Alimatu Dimonekene told the summit how she was raised in Sierra Leone by a father who encouraged her to think she could do anything that a boy could.
“My father always said curtailing a child’s vision is like covering the moon with a dark blanket,” she said. However, her parents could not resist pressure from her wider family and Alimatu was cut at 16.
Her story illustrates the overriding theme of the Girl Summit - that everyone has to be involved in creating change.
“This is everybody’s business,” said UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. “This is one of the most important messages that we need to get out there: that FGM and forced marriage aren’t just ‘women’s problems’.”
(Editing by Maria Caspani: firstname.lastname@example.org)