On Thursday, former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, global philanthropist Melinda French Gates, and leading human rights lawyer Amal Clooney convened influential leaders and experts, including former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique Graça Machel, for a discussion on ending child marriage to help further their collective efforts to remove barriers facing young women around the world so they can reach their full potential.
At the event, Mrs. Obama, Ms. French Gates, and Mrs. Clooney shared reflections on their recent journey to Malawi, recounting the important insights gained while meeting with partner organizations in the fight to end child marriage, including Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa (AGE Africa) and human rights champions from groups such as the Women Lawyers Association of Malawi and Girls Not Brides Malawi.
On stage, they were joined by esteemed experts and advocates committed to ending child marriage, including Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell, Memory Banda, Ulanda Mtamba, Kadidiatou Konate, Rebeca Gyumi, and Lakshmi Moore.
The event took place at the Centre for the Book, an outreach unit of the National Library of South Africa and assembled key stakeholders and dedicated advocates and was designed to amplify the voices of those committed to eradicating child marriage and empowering adolescent girls.
Mrs. Michelle Obama, Former First Lady of the United States and Founder of the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance:
Mrs. Obama underscored the importance of empowering young girls through education to break the cycle of child marriage.
"For the past five years, the Girls Opportunity Alliance has been working hard to help girls overcome obstacles and achieve their full potential,” said former First Lady Michelle Obama and founder of the Girls Opportunity Alliance. “When girls marry too early, they often miss out on the education they deserve. That’s why I’m thrilled to be able to team up with Melinda French Gates and Amal Clooney to invest in grassroots leaders and organizations who are working to end child marriage and lift girls up. Every girl deserves a chance at a life worthy of her dreams, and I am proud to join such a remarkable group of people to make that a reality.“
Ms. Melinda French Gates, Global Philanthropist and Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
Ms. French Gates highlighted the importance of investing in women and girls and called for comprehensive strategies to address the root causes of child marriage.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ending child marriage; it requires different interventions in different contexts. But we do know one thing: We have to start by investing in women and girls,” said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “That’s why this collaboration with global leaders like Michelle Obama and Amal Clooney, along with organizations like Girls Not Brides and Girls First Fund, is so important. We need more funding, policies, and laws—informed and led by communities and supported by governments—to ensure that every girl has the power to make decisions over her own life and live up to her full potential.”
Mrs. Amal Clooney, Leading Human Rights Lawyer and Co-Founder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice:
Providing a legal perspective, Mrs. Clooney highlighted the power of law to effect change and the need for international collaboration to enforce legal measures against child marriage.
"We need to ‘wage’ justice, it doesn’t just happen," said Amal Clooney, co-founder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice. "More than 40 African nations have child marriage laws that do not comply with international standards. Child marriage impacts girls' health, increases her risk of being subjected to violence and reduces her educational and employment opportunities. That is why at CFJ we are looking for opportunities to change these laws and increase access to justice. Just two days ago I stood in a field in rural Malawi and 1,200 people turned up seeking free legal advice. Alongside Michelle, Melinda and our incredible local partners, I am proud to be empowering women and girls across the continent to know their rights and make child marriage history."
Mrs. Graça Machel, Former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique and Founder of the Graça Machel Trust and the Foundation for Community Development:
Mrs. Machel passionately addressed the social and economic consequences of gender inequity and the fact that cultural norms are man-made and should be challenged when they disadvantage women and girls. She also spoke about the scourge of gender-based violence, calling for a united effort to invest in women and girls.
“The fundamental thing we have to remind the world is that a girl is a full human being—who has an identity, who has potential, who has dreams, and who has a right to decide what she wants to do with her life—Like everyone else,” said former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique and founder of the Graça Machel Trust and the Foundation for Community Development. “So if we are looking to solve this horrific problem of child marriage, we need to put the girl child in her rightful place as a full human being and not a commodity to be exchanged for material things”
Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell, CEO of Girls Not Brides:
Dr. Mwangi-Powell highlighted the critical importance of civil society in the movement to end child marriage and offered a compelling call to action to invest more resources to address this issue at this critical juncture in time.
Ms. Memory Banda, Malawian Children's Rights Activist:
Shared personal experiences, Ms. Banda advocated for community-led initiatives to challenge cultural norms perpetuating child marriage.
Ms. Ulanda Mtamba, Country Director of Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa:
Ms. Mtamba discussed the importance of education in empowering girls and preventing early marriages, emphasizing the important role community-based organizations play and the need for additional resources to support girls' access to quality education.
Ms. Kadidiatou Konate, Executive Director of the Young Girl Leaders Club of Guinea:
Ms. Konate emphasized the vital role youth-led organizations play in fostering a new generation of advocates against child marriage.
Ms. Rebeca Gyumi, Executive Director of the Msichana Initiative, and the Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network:
Ms. Gyumi shared success stories from Tanzania, highlighting the importance of community engagement in developing programs and policy.
Ms. Lakshmi Moore, Program Director of Girls First Fund:
Ms. Moore discussed the critical role of supporting grassroots leaders, civil society, and women-led organizations in sustaining efforts to end child marriage.
The event concluded with a resounding call to action, urging continued collaboration and sustained efforts to eradicate child marriage by ensuring girls around the world can build their power and advocate for the lives they want. All leaders shared a palpable optimism and determination, expressing a shared conviction that concerted efforts can make lasting strides towards ending child marriage globally.