Girl Summit in Kathmandu!

This week we mark the one year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Nepal. Around 9,000 people lost their lives, more than half a million lost their homes, and the country spent the last year trying to get back on its feet. Disasters like earthquakes pose unique challenges for women and girls, and rates of sexual and gender-based violence often increase in the aftermath. Faced with the intense stress of recovery, families and communities sometimes turn to negative coping strategies like sending girls abroad to work in risky situations, or marrying them early under the belief that this will keep them safer. Last month, the issue of early, child, and forced marriage took center stage at the first ever Girl Summit in Nepal. Her Turn was there to check it out:

Radika with our own Anita Thapa

Radhika with our own Anita Thapa

15-year-old Radhika Buda is a powerful advocate for girls’ rights. We got the chance to hear her speak last week at the first ever Girl Summit in Nepal. Held on the 23rd of March, the Summit in Kathmandu, hosted by Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare, and supported by DFID and Unicef, was a follow up to the 2014 Girl Summit in London, which aimed to mobilize international actors to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early, and forced marriage. At the 2014 Summit, the government of Nepal pledged to end child marriage by 2030 and girls like Radhika want to hold them to this promise. During her speech, Radhika, from the remote district of Kalikot demanded quality education for girls as part of achieving this goal.

We weren’t the only ones blown away by her speech. After a cheer from the audience, Radhika took her chair on the stage when the Prince of Wales leaned over to congratulate her. Prince Harry, in town on an official visit to commemorate 200 years of relationships between Nepal and the UK, and to see how Nepal was coping after the earthquake, opened the Summit with a speech discussing the 62 million girls around the world who are deprived of education, and the 700 million women married as children.

Group work during Girl Summit

Group work during Girl Summit

“We need to acknowledge that so many countries and cultures are failing to protect the opportunities of young women and girls in the way they do for boys,” Prince Harry said. “After marriage at young age, girls soon become locked in a cycle of illiteracy, poverty, ill health and ultimately powerlessness.” The solution, the prince said, is education. He noted the progress Nepal has made, pointing to President Bidhya Bhandari, Nepal’s first female president, who also shared the stage.

But as Radhika and others noted, Nepal still has a long way to go. Despite being banned decades ago – and falling 10% in the last decade – child marriage still exists across Nepal in places where weak law enforcement and discriminatory social norms allow it to persist.

The good news is the issue is drawing attention from activists across the globe, including girls like Malala and Radhika. And policy makers are starting to pay attention. In Nepal, the National Strategy Against Child Marriage (which was developed after consultations with many groups, including Her Turn) was just approved by the government. This milestone was announced at the Summit. We applaud girls like Radhika, and Her Turn participants, for leading Nepal forward in this battle. We know they will continue to make progress so future generations of girls can live happy, healthy, and equal lives.