The theme for the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) conference this year was: social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. After attending, I have been reflecting on what this year’s theme has meant for women and girls who are exposed to gender-based violence.
Women’s empowerment is about being able to make life choices and household decisions that addresses child poverty. For girls, it is about having income for their education to enable them to pursue a career of their choice without any risk of being exposed to child marriage.
Girls who grow up in poverty, with limited education are at the greatest risk of both child marriage and adolescent pregnancy. As families struggle to meet their basic needs, a girl child is normally kicked out of school and married off as a strategy for economic survival for parents. Country profiles show child marriage rates being as high as 50 per cent in Malawi, whilst adolescent pregnancy rates are as high as 40 per cent in Mozambique, to 21 per cent in Zimbabwe.
Aguet N. from Malawi, married at age 15 to a 75-year-old man said, “This man went to my uncles and paid a dowry of 80 cows. I resisted the marriage. They threatened me. They said, ‘If you want your siblings to be taken care of, you will marry this man.’ I said he is too old for me. They said, ‘You will marry this old man whether you like it or not because he has given us something to eat.”
Having grown up in a Zimbabwean village where my mother struggled to feed my siblings and I, I firmly agree that child-sensitive social protection programmes aimed at addressing the root causes of child poverty are very important in the life of every child. Receiving food assistance alone was not enough for me as I still needed school fees and uniforms. As a teenager, I needed sanitary pads to be able to go to school and comfortably interact with other kids. All these basic needs cost money.
As I reflected on these real life stories, I began to ask myself the following questions:
What is the role of social protection and women’s economic empowerment in reducing inequalities and exposure of girls to early marriages?
What can all actors do better to achieve the objectives of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995)?
I came to the conclusion that change is possible. We need to draw inspiration from good practices. Speaking during the CSW63 opening ceremony, UN Secretary General, António Guterres, inspired us with new energy to pursue gender equality. He said:
“We will not be pushed back, we will keep pushing back the push backs until we see change.”
An end to child marriages and gender-based violence resulting from extreme poverty is possible by 2030. I’m excited to share that World Vision has already been working hard to do so.
Drawing Inspiration from Good Practice
The World Health Organization (WHO) INSPIRE Framework identifies economic empowerment as central to reducing exposure of women and girls to violence.Through my work at World Vision, I have seen how different livelihoods programmes have increased women’s confidence and enabled them to meet their children’s basic needs.
In Myanmar, this village is challenging gender stereotypes through savings groups. In Sierra Leone, this has instilled confidence of women in both household and political decision-making spaces.
A 26 year-old mother from Bangladesh is now able to meet the basic needs of her children through WV’s ultra-poor graduation programme. She now has a home to stay, savings in a bank, and assets.
A mother in Chad is now self-reliant not only for today, but has self-reliance for tomorrow through livelihoods integrated programming.
Microfinanceempowered Mariamu Baka in Tanzania who took on the challenge of economically sustaining her family.
As we prepare for CSW64 and the review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), we are calling for increased investments in gender sensitive social protection and women’s economic empowerment programmes.
This means that interventions for improving the social protection of children should also include a provision of consumption stipends and productive asset transfers as a strategy to “distract” families from sending off children especially the girl child into early marriage. Women with increased access to financial resources (savings and microfinance) and control over productive assets (such as land) have more positive coping strategies to meet the basic needs of their children. We have also seen the importance of men’s engagement to promoting women economic empowerment. It is possible for men and women to work together for their children. Finally, creating child poverty reduction plans and policies with implementation accountability plans is central to reducing violence against women and children.
By doing all this and much more, I believe we will indeed keep pushing back until we see change.
Angeline Munzara is the Livelihoods Senior External Engagement Advisor and Savings Groups Manager for World Vision International, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has over 15 years of development experience working with non-governmental organisations at the national (Zimbabwe), regional (SADC) and international level (Geneva). She was recently elected as the Global Chair for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Compliance Committee (2019-2021). Angeline holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree and a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Zimbabwe.
 Marriage, of full-aged consenting adults, is a human right, as codified under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16 of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 2015 UN Human Rights Commission Resolution on Strengthening Efforts to Prevent and Eliminate Child, Early and Forced Marriage and many other international conventions and resolutions.
 See: http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/themes/poverty/
 UNICEF (2009) State of the World’s Children
 UNICEF (2014).
 UNFPA (2013).for more strategies, read our brief: “Taking action to address child marriage: the role of different sector. Brief 4. Economic growth and workforce development”.
 Stories extracted from Link between child marriage and economic empowerment paper by Barbara Kalima-Phiri: https://www.slideshare.net/theimpactinitiative/putting-children-first-session-31c-barbara-kalimaphiri-link-between-child-marriage-and-economic-empowerment-25oct17
 The review will include an assessment of current challenges that affect the implementation of the Platform for Action and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and its contribution towards the full realisation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.