Panel Discussion: Spotlight on Progress "Can Better Legislation and Successful Prosecutions Help End FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage?"

Context: This presentation is from one of the 14 "Spotlights on Progress" video-recorded sessions from the Girl Summit 2014, London, United Kingdom (UK). The sessions were organised to share best practice between practitioners, grassroots activists, and government ministers across the issues of female genital mutilation (FGM) (also FGM/C - female genital mutilation/cutting) and child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM). Girl Summit is a project of the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.

From the conference outline document: "Effective legislation and its implementation require the sensitive involvement of many actors, including governments at all levels, traditional and faith leaders, civil society and communities. Join us as we explore the pathways to ending FGM and child, early and marriage through legal reform, promotion of child rights, and the role of prosecutors in order to achieve lasting change for girls and women."

Profile of speaker: A featured panelist of this Spotlight session was Dr. Tabinda Sarosh, Programme Director, Shirkat Gah, whose presentation was entitled "Women’s Empowerment and Social Justice Programme, Pakistan". From the conference documentation: "Dr. Tabinda Sarosh is a development practitioner, trainer, researcher, human and women’s rights’ activist with main focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as a part of the women’s rights movement. She is the Director SRHR for Shirkat Gah and based in Karachi.  Initiated as a small voluntary women’s collective in Pakistan in 1975, Shirkat Gah has evolved into a leading women’s rights organization, whose work addresses the social, political and legal issues around early age marriage." 

Strategy overview: Among Dr. Sarosh's comments: "Dr. Sarosh emphasised the limits of legislation, given its common inaccessibility and divergence from entrenched social norms." Shrikat Gah has been advocating for gender-just policies for more than 30 years and giving legal aid support to women for more than 15 years. She recognises that laws will never be effective when no one knows about them, when there are procedural obstacles to accessing them, and when harmful practices are embedded in cultural practices are the norms of the country. Laws against CEFM have been in place for over 50 years. "Legislation should therefore be accompanied by tailored grass-roots interventions that work with both formal and informal power structures....Dr. Sarosh noted that there have not yet been any arrests for CEFM, in part due to a lack of awareness around existing legislation. However, through working with individuals and families at the community level, Shirkat Gah has intervened to prevent over 50 child marriages to date." Shirkat Gah works to empower women and girls at the community level, in part through the establishment of women and girl-friendly spaces, to have the self-confidence to access legal aid and education programmes.

Dr. Sarosh presented on what is working in Shirkat Gah’s Women’s Empowerment and Social Justice Programme, including a recent 2-year study in Sindh on Adolescent Reproductive Health and Early Age Marriages to gather evidence for the advocacy campaign messages developed on the basis of the findings, including linking secondary education with positive reproductive health outcomes. Additionally, the organisation studies early marriage and the power dynamics around the decisions of early marriage. They had also developed a position paper. All of these elements added impetus to the multi-organisation campaign, in which Shirkat Gah was a lead collaborator, leading to the passage of the bill in Sindh that standardised the age of marriage for girls to 18.

Dr. Sarosh explained the importance of customising messages and modalities for their various audiences of decisionmakers, opinion setters, women, and girls themselves. She named non-formal structures as taking precedence over formal structures in cultural behaviours, so Shirkat Gah aims its interventions there, where power and control of women's and girls' lives are taken over. She emphasised that traditions are not overturned without face-to-face conversation in a safe space for girls to generate discourse and map their own situation and collectively come up with a solution within their women-friendly spaces.

Dr. Sarosh "noted the positive support of male youth at the community level for this work, explaining that young men can often identify with the disempowered status of women and girls. She stated they are among the best allies." As the organisation came closer to legislation in Sindh, religious groups proposed that even pre-pubescent girls should be eligible to marry. Shirkat Gah was ready with a 2-minute video (from their collection here) that was placed on Pakistani television with a viewership of one million - then was taken up by special media viewers. Dr. Sarosh emphasised being ready - having the means, the advocacy tools, the communication materials, and the evidence at the ready.

"Shirkat Gah have worked to improve data around MDG 5 (Improve Maternal Health), and particularly around adolescent reproductive health outcomes and early child marriage. Findings from this research formed part of a wider advocacy campaign that pushed for the successful passing of the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill, which prohibits the marriage of children under 18."
 
Overview of this Summit Session: From the Girl Summit summary document: "New and traditional media, brand platforms and communications strategies are proven tools that have triggered discussions and shifted perceptions. Speakers will give examples of how these tools are being used to change how girls see themselves and are perceived in their communities, as well to elevate the dialogue on key issues to national levels and beyond."

The speakers for this session are:

Alison Saunders CB Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales.

Kranti L. Chinnappa Executive Director, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).

Dr. Tabinda Sarosh Programme Director, Shirkat Gah.

Her Excellency Camara Sanaba Kaba Minister for Social Action and Promotion of Women and Children, Government of Guinea.

Her Excellency Hooria Mashhour Minister of Human Rights, Government of Yemen.

The session is chaired by Ikenna Azuike is a former lawyer and the founder of What's Up Africa, an ...internet programme about African news, initiatives and people. He is also the founder of Strawberry Earth, a foundation devoted to promoting awareness about sustainability."

Footage of this (available below) and other "Spotlights" are available on DFID’s YouTube channel.

The Girl Summit is a project of DFID. Click here and scroll down to see the full list of individuals and organisations committed to working on girls' issues, as well as a list of Girl Summit Charter signatories.

Source: 

DFID Girl Summit Outcomes website and the Shirkat Gah website, accessed on August 18 2015.

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