Author Archives: 2Y2W

15 Thursday, May 2014

Schools — and the girls who attend them — are not weapons of war

By Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister and UN special envoy for global education

It is now urgent that leaders of all faiths speak with one voice against the perversion and distortion of Islam by Boko Haram terrorists. Their recently issued video, which talks of the forced conversions of the 280 abducted Nigerian school children, follows their warning last weekend that their religion justified them selling girls into sex slavery for as little as seven dollars per girl.

Women gather on May 8, 2014, in western Niger to ask the UN to pursue Boko Haram Islamists who are responsible for the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls. Nigeria’s president said the mass abduction of the schoolgirls in Nigeria marks a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers join the search to rescue the hostages. Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau has claimed responsibility in a video, saying his extreme Islamist group is holding the schoolgirls as ‘slaves’ and threatening to ‘sell them in the market.’ BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images

Their violent assaults in the name of religion against innocent school girls have to be condemned throughout the world as we alert the Nigerian people to the true evil of a sect that claims to have its own special insight into Sharia law.

More than three weeks ago, I called for international action with logistic help for surveillance and satellite reconnaissance to locate and rescue the girls. Now, members of the Global Faiths Coalition for Education, including those representing the Islamic faith, are calling for condemnation of Boko Haram’s distorted theological claims that seek to justify slavery and rape.

Their proposed trade in girls — that they be exchanged for Boko Haram prisoners captured by the Nigerian authorities — shows that they have no interest in the welfare of the girls other than as pawns in their military game.

That is why faith leaders across Nigeria — some of whom I am in contact with already — and across the world must come together under the Global Faiths Coalition for Education in condemning any attempt to use schools as weapons of war and to justify atrocities on a fabricated interpretation of the Koran.

The new video gives us some hope that the girls may not have yet been dispersed across Africa and can be found. It challenges rumors that 50 girls had been seen as far away as the Central African Republic and lessens fears that they are now scattered throughout Chad, Cameroon and Niger. The video, however, increases pressure on the Nigerian government to mobilize its international help which now includes China, France and Israel as well as Britain and the USA.

Having met Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday [May 9] in Abuja, I can confirm his determination now that he has international technical support to move quickly to locate the girls and attempt to rescue them.

Students hold signs outside the state government house in Lagos, Nigeria, where groups called for the release of nearly 300 Chibok boarding-school girls, kidnapped by Islamist extremists a  month ago. B PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

I have now seen interviews with the very brave Chibok girls who took their chances to escape after the devastating burning and looting of their school and village. It is, however, clear that as the girls were being taken from their dormitories and marched off in lorries late at night, many were so in fear of being shot that they missed their opportunity to run away

The Boko Haram pattern of behavior makes it all the more important that the safe schools initiative launched by Nigerian business leaders last week gets off the ground quickly. While Boko Haram are a small extremist faction with limited demographic reach, it will take a tougher approach to school security and safety to reassure girls’ parents and teachers that their school in the northern states is safe enough to attend. That is why foreign governments are now offering financial support for security guards and for proper fortifications and security equipment to give any school threatened by a terrorist attack the best possible chance of surviving it intact.

We can do more to create safe schools. In 2011, the United Nations designated attacks on schools as war crimes, and on March 7, 2014, only two months ago, the security council of the U.K. required UN authorities to increase the monitoring of the military use of schools and asked all states to take measures to deter any militarization of school precincts.

In the next few days under the banner “See it, Name it, Stop it: End and Prevent Attacks on Schools,” Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, will call a vigil and launch her guidance note to enable better protection of pupils in conflict zones. It has taken four weeks for the world to come together to provide military, security, and financial and moral support for the Chibok girls. Not a moment must be lost in locating the Chibok girls and making schools for all girls safer.

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This piece first appeared on The Huffington Post on May 12, 2014, and was reprinted with permission from The Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown, which supports A World At School.

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8 Thursday, May 2014

Yemen to Ban Child Marriage and FGM

By Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now

As dusk falls over the Fun City amusement park, a mother watches her children spin on a ride featuring an unveiled version of Fulla, a Barbie doll alternative popular among Middle Eastern girls in Sana, Yemen, Nov. 13, 2012. Moments like this offer relief from troubles, but the “emergence of a new dawn” heralded by Yemen’s 2011 peace Nobelist, Tawakkol Karman, eludes much of the country. Stephanie Sinclair/ VII
As dusk falls over the Fun City amusement park, a mother watches her children spin on a ride featuring an unveiled version of Fulla, a Barbie doll alternative popular among Middle Eastern girls in Sana, Yemen, Nov. 13, 2012. Moments like this offer relief from troubles, but the “emergence of a new dawn” heralded by Yemen’s 2011 peace Nobelist, Tawakkol Karman, eludes much of the country. Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Yemen is likely to vote on a comprehensive ‘Child Rights Act’ over the coming months, which would ban both child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). 

 After years of pressure from both national and international organizations, including Equality Now, on April 27th, Mohammad Makhlafi, minister for legal affairs, submitted the proposed wide-ranging legislation to Mohammad Basindawa, Yemeni prime minister.  If approved by Basindawa, the next step would be a review by the cabinet’s council of ministers.  Upon agreement by the cabinet, it would go to a parliamentary discussion and vote.
The new law proposes to establish the international human rights standard of 18 as the minimum age of marriage and impose fines on guardians, signatories, marriage officials and any other witnesses who have knowledge that either marriage participant is under this age. 
Now that the ‘National Dialogue’ has been completed – a lengthy process that aimed to make recommendations for a new Yemeni constitution – it is heartening to see that its outcomes, including setting a minimum age of marriage, are being translated into official legislation.  This new push has been endorsed by Hooria Mashhour, minister for human rights, while others in government have also taken a strong leadership role.  
However, successful passage of the law is far from certain, and a previous 2009 attempt to fix the minimum age of marriage for girls at 17 was blocked by traditional and religious leaders and the parliament’s Shariah committee.  On this occasion, the president has increased power and can overrule.  It is unclear whether or not he would do so, but the process has shown more general support for protecting girls from early marriage.
According to the United Nations, over half of Yemeni girls are married by the age of 18.  This serious human rights violation is extremely harmful to a girl’s physical, psychological and emotional health and well-being, but also means that her education and future prospects are severely compromised. Complications during sexual intercourse and childbirth put the girl at particularly high risk of harm and even maternal mortality.
Furthermore, child marriage does not take place in a vacuum, as detailed in Equality Now’s new report on ‘Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations’.  This comprehensive report illustrates how such marriages are part a continuum of abuse and discrimination experienced by a young girl – often linked with related abuses such as sexual violence and FGM.  When a child bride gives birth, the violence and discrimination continue for future generations until the cycle of abuse is broken. 
With this in mind, we welcome additional articles in the ‘Child Rights Act’ that propose banning FGM, which affects 23 percent of Yemen’s female population – as well as other forms of violence against children such as child labor. 
In dealing with the rights of the girl child in a holistic way, Yemen is recognizing that an interlinked approach is essential to ensuring that girls at risk are protected at an early stage from a lifetime of abuse.  However, such a holistic approach would mean that the health, education and justice systems need to be adequately resourced not only financially, but also in terms of each actor knowing what role and responsibility they have in ensuring that the law is effectively implemented and that girls are properly educated about their rights. 
In recent months, neighboring countries have made moves in both directions.  In the Sindh province of Pakistan – the part of the country with the highest prevalence – the local assembly voted in favor of a law establishing 18 as the minimum age of marriage.  Regulations in Saudi Arabia were allegedly drafted last year, but we have yet to hear confirmation of when these might be realized. 
Unfortunately, proposed legislative changes in the region have not all been positive.  A potential Iraqi draft law, which would permit 9-year-old girls to marry, has at least been shelved for the moment.  However, moves like this are indicative of the possibility of the rights of women and girls to also slide backwards, at a time when huge strides are being made in the right direction.
It is hoped that in Yemen, the various authorities will seize the new opportunity for major advances to be made – not only for its female population, but for the entire country.  As long as Yemeni women and girls are at risk of violence and discrimination, lives are destroyed and potential is wasted.  We hope that on this occasion, traditional and religious leaders will ensure that the law is passed by the Shariah committee and help to make a resounding step forward toward a new future for Yemen, where the rights of girls are firmly at the forefront.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh joined Equality Now as a consultant for the Middle East and North Africa in 2008. Before joining the organization, Ms. Abu-Dayyeh worked for ten years with the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling in Jerusalem (WCLAC). WCLAC is a Palestinian feminist NGO which works to address gender-based violence within the Palestinian Society in both the private and public spheres. Ms. Abu-Dayyeh holds a master’s in “Women & Development” from the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands and bachelor’s degrees in Social Work and Law from Bethlehem University and Al Ahliyya Amman University in Jordan. Currently, she is pursuing a master’s in Public Law at Middle East University Jordan.
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1 Thursday, May 2014

2y2w campaign inspires artistic team

By Michelle Berman

In January of this year, noted graphic designer Ken Carbone came to Atlanta’s Portfolio Center and asked us to work in teams to create 30-second TV spots that would hypothetically air during the Super Bowl. Each team was instructed to choose a nonprofit organization to advertise. My team, comprised of Natalia Ruiz, M.C. Coppage, Corrye Mobley, Carolina Colombo, Sophia Muhihu and myself, came together and began to research meaningful nonprofits that would make a good subject for our commercial.

We wanted to pick an organization that would lend itself to an unexpected, attention-getting reaction from the mostly male audience that watches the Super Bowl. That led us to Too Young to Wed. Natalia is actually the one in the group who brought this cause to light, but after looking at the website and researching more about the girls this group aims to help, we all knew that this was the organization we wanted to work on.

The goal of our commercial was to shock the audience that we imagined would be watching the Super Bowl. We wanted the ad to be simple, so watchers would understand it and feel its influence. The premise was to pan up vertically on a wedding dress while beautiful, classical music played in the background. To the unknowing viewers, it might seem like a typical wedding dress commercial, but as the camera keeps going up, we see a stuffed dog instead of a bouquet and then we see the girl’s face—a face too young to be wearing a wedding dress.

We got the wedding dress from Corrye’s friend, and Sophia had a family friend who was perfect to star in the ad. To make it even more impactful, we decided to have our model record a voiceover at the end of the commercial to drive the cause home.

We had a daylong photo shoot that resulted in amazing photographs and a powerful 30-second video.

The reaction to our ad was more than we could have ever expected. It was even recognized on Fast Company’s website. As a group, we couldn’t have asked for anything better. We worked so well together and produced an ad that could hopefully help Too Young to Wed do what it was created to do.

Ending child marriage around the world is such an important cause. If we can do one little thing to get this organization’s message to someone who might not know this is happening, then maybe that person will tell someone else, and that person will tell someone else, until the cycle completes itself and this epidemic is stopped for good.

Too Young to Wed sends a heartfelt thanks to the wonderfully creative team behind this amazing ad. All are students at Atlanta’s Portfolio Center, where Michelle focuses on copy writing, Sophia is an illustrator, Natalia is an art director, Corrye is a photographer, and M.C. and Carolina specialize in design. Have your own creative project that addresses child marriage? Please share it with us!

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24 Thursday, April 2014

Iraqi law would strip women, girls of basic human rights

By Maryam Zar and Zainab Zeb Khan

Jaafari law is nothing new in the Muslim world. It is a form of jurisprudence named after the 6th Imam of the Shiite sect, and bases its provisions on the concepts of “zaman”—time—and “makan”—place. The basic idea thousands of years ago was that depending on any Muslim’s particular time and place or circumstance, the law would bend and conform to suit them.


A 15-year-old girl is married in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003. Jaafari law would make it legal for girls as young as 9 to be brides. --- Stephanie Sinclair/VII
A 15-year-old girl is married in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003. Jaafari law would make it legal for girls as young as 9 to be brides.
— Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Here and now, however, it would be nice if Islamic jurisprudence could follow its own lead and recognize that it is no longer the time and the place for 9-year-olds to wed, women to be raped over the course of a lifetime inside a marriage, and an entire gender to be held behind the confines of home walls until and unless a male guardian assents to their exit, and accompanies them. Those times have passed. Today, civilization, indeed codified human rights, demands that women have a right to self-determination, access to a basic education and agency over their own bodies.

Not so, say the new rulers of Iraq, who as members of parliament are proposing a new draft law to revert from decades of codified gains for women and girls to a centuries-old Jaafari text that would have women marry before they menstruate, eliminate the need for consensual sex within a marriage, restrict the movements of women and girls without male consent, have women inherit half of what a man would inherit in estate issues and pass custody rights of any child over the age of 2 to their father.

To date, there are three petitions against this law, both in English and in Arabic, that have gathered nearly 500,000 signatures worldwide. To be sure, in a world of 7 billion people and rampant population growth—largely because of uncontrolled births in parts of the world where girls are married young and have no education or access to birth control—a half a million signatures isn’t a majority. But surely, it should send a message that the time for child brides shuffling unsuspectingly into a lifetime of abuse with no representation or self-determination has passed, and that today free people everywhere demand human rights for women and girls. If the unsuspecting women who will suffer at the hands of this law were able to read or write, or even have access to unfettered news, they would likely sign on as well. But they do not, and in fact, this law seeks to exert the control and dominion of the patriarchy over women and girls to squelch any chance of an education or an autonomous life for an entire gender to have determination over their own lives and bodies.

So after generations of gains for Iraqi women, who before the U.S.-led invasion could go to colleges and universities hoping for lives that would merge the traditions of home life with the benefits of modernity, Iraq’s women must silently stay within the confines of their homes now hoping the newly installed patriarchy doesn’t yank their rights. The proposed Jaafari law stipulates that Iraqi Shiites would refer to Islamic Sharia Law for personal status issues, including marriage, divorce and inheritance. The law also outlines the consequences, repercussions and punishment that will be implemented against women and girls who do not follow the principles of these laws. The punishments are no less dire than the loss of life and limb. Transgressions for violating Jaafari law can lead to honor killings and physical punishments that would shock even those who argue that traditions are better left alone.

In the name of Tradition, a set of irrational arguments hinged on old notions of personal freedom and the teachings of religion (the premise of Jaafari jurisprudence) impose a damning set of rules upon the would-be victims: women and girls. The proposed Jaafari law would make legal the practice of child sexual abuse, marital rape and false imprisonment. Girls would be deemed as eligible for marriage at the age of 9, with consent in the hands of either fathers or grandfathers. The mothers, who would presumably know what kind of horror awaits their daughters, would have no say in the marriage.

Women would be vulnerable to heightened domestic violence through the elimination of consent for sex within the marriage, allowing what is effectively marital rape. In addition, this law will condone sanctioned pathways of brutal punishment including stoning, mutilation and unlawful imprisonment. Polygamy is also an option under Jaafari law, which provides for the specific manner in which multiple wives can be handled and even disciplined. The law would also strictly forbid marriage to a non-Muslim. In a country like Iraq, where multiple ethnicities live within the borders of one nation and deep sectarian divides separate religious minorities from majorities, this part of the law is a recipe for disaster among youth who dare to find love across religious divides.

Accompanying tragedies are sure to include heightened incidents of maternal deaths among young girls giving birth, infant mortality among families too large to responsibly care for, obstetric fistula, infanticide and much, much more. Women and girls will become further susceptible to trafficking, and child brides will soon be sold or traded like cattle to settle disputes or bartered for goods. With women effectively incapacitated from any kind of financial autonomy, poverty among women will only grow, and inheritance laws will leave them without the faculties to live through old age or to care for their children in the case of a husband’s death.

It is baffling that a school of thought with its origins centuries back is being revived for people who are desperately trying to join the modern world. No wonder there is an increasing global howl against it. To realize that this law is being imposed on a society that has existed under a secular legal code for decades, where the marriage age for girls has been 18 and consent has been a cornerstone for marital intimacy, is to cringe at the stakes for Iraqi women and girls. They are like you and I, hopeful for the future, ready to take on the world and join a modern era of technology and personal liberty. But the ideology that threatens to now govern Iraq would yank them back in time and take them to a day when little girls were brides and women were helpless inside and outside the home.

Today, this world is not the time or the place for this law, and we must speak out to stop it.

Currently, we need your support to stop the passage of this law in Iraq. A coalition of  global organizations and human rights activists have aligned and launched petitions to take action,  including two in English at and and another in Arabic here.

To support us in opposing this law, please sign the petitions and share broadly with the hashtag #No2JaafariLaw.

Maryam Zar, J.D.
Founder: Womenfound
Blogger: Huffington Post
Editor: Rahavard English edition
Director: Communications at UNW-USNC-LA Chapter
Lecturer, media personality and advocate for global women’s rights.

Zainab Zeb Khan
Artist, Activist, Humanitarian
Director: UNA-USA Chicago Chapter

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17 Thursday, April 2014

Program brings child brides out of the shadows

This piece about a remarkable program in Ethiopia that is changing the lives of child brides and their communities originally appeared on the International Center for Research on Women’s website and is reprinted with the permission of the ICRW.

Girls in Buro Kantuna, Ethiopia, wait to speak with an ICRW staff member on hand to learn more about their involvement in the TESFA pilot project carried out here in 2010-2011. Implemented by CARE Ethiopia and supported by ICRW,  the TESFA pilot was comprised of an economic empowerment (EE) arm, a sexual and reproductive health (SRH) arm, and a control group. --- David Snyder/ICRW
Girls in Buro Kantuna, Ethiopia, wait to speak with an ICRW staff member on hand to learn more about their involvement in the TESFA pilot project carried out here in 2010-2011. Implemented by CARE Ethiopia and supported by ICRW, the TESFA pilot was comprised of an economic empowerment (EE) arm, a sexual and reproductive health (SRH) arm, and a control group.
— David Snyder/ICRW

By Gillian Gaynair

A program that provided child brides in Ethiopia with unprecedented opportunities to learn about sexual and reproductive health as well as how to earn an income and save money proved to significantly enhance many aspects of the girls lives, according to new findings by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

ICRW today releases “Improving the Lives of Married Adolescent Girls in Amhara, Ethiopia,” a summary of its evaluation of the groundbreaking program that took place over three years.

The program, called “Towards Economic and Sexual Reproductive Health Outcomes for Adolescent Girls” or TESFA, worked with 5,000 child brides ages 10 to 19, in Ethiopia’s rural Amhara region. Funded by the Nike Foundation and implemented by CARE-Ethiopia, TESFA sought to mitigate the effects of child marriage. It also provided opportunities for married adolescent girls – who are among the most marginalized members of society – to participate in the social, economic and political life of their families and communities.

For ICRW’s evaluation, led by Senior Social Demographer Jeffrey Edmeades, researchers employed innovative methodologies – including the Photovoice strategy – to understand not only if TESFA’s approach worked, but how and why. While a significant amount of research has explored the causes and consequences of child marriage in Ethiopia and elsewhere, little investigation and few programs have focused strictly on girls who are already married. TESFA – which means “hope” in Amharic – did. The program remains one of a few efforts globally that zeroed in on married girls and how best to support them as they transition to adulthood.

“Most global programming and policy efforts tend to center primarily on preventing child marriage, and ignore girls who are already married,” Edmeades said. “But it’s vitally important that we give more attention to this population. When their lives improve, so will their children’s, which can play a critical role in reaching global development targets to reduce intergenerational poverty and poor health.”

With her young daughter on her back, TESFA pilot project participant Kasansh Ayele speaks with staff of ICRW in Ayva Niva in Ethiopia's South Gondar Zone.  --- David Snyder/ICRW
With her young daughter on her back, TESFA pilot project participant Kasansh Ayele speaks with staff of ICRW in Ayva Niva in Ethiopia’s South Gondar Zone.
— David Snyder/ICRW

Launched in 2010, the TESFA program unfolded in several villages in the South Gondar region of Amhara. ICRW found that the girls’ economic and social lives as well as their health improved significantly. Among the changes ICRW recorded were:

  • Large gains in communication between the young wives and their husbands
  • Decreased levels of gender-based violence
  • Improved mental health among participating girls
  • Increased investment in productive economic assets, such as small businesses and agricultural supplies
  • Improved knowledge and use of sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning

TESFA built on CARE’s well-established Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) model, where girls were organized into groups and program content was delivered primarily through peer educators. While this approach has been widely used with adults, it had not been used extensively with adolescent girls exclusively, or as a mechanism for delivering a health-related curriculum.

The program divided participants into four groups that represented the type of education they received:

  • Economic Empowerment – Girls who received economic empowerment information and guidance, based on an adapted VSLA model.
  • Sexual & Reproductive Health – Girls who learned about issues related to their sexual and reproductive health.
  • Combined – Girls who received both EE and SRH programming.
  • Comparison – Girls who received a delayed version of the Combined curriculum and served as a comparison group.

It also directly engaged the community to a greater degree than is typical. In particular, community members, including village elders, religious leaders and health workers, were recruited as a part of Social Action and Analyses (SAA) groups – also called “gatekeepers.” These adults received training in areas related to the main project goals through a peer-education system similar to that used with the girls’ groups. They also acted as liaisons between the program and the community and were tasked with providing support to the girls’ groups.

Such engagement proved crucial for the success of the project and resulted in a number of benefits well beyond what the project team initially expected. SAA members provided direct assistance to TESFA through identifying potentially eligible girls in the community. They visited households to further explain the program to family members. They talked to the participant girls to discuss any issues they were having with the program. And, they provided overall support to the group through regular meetings.

“Fundamentally, these groups became agents for change in their own right,” Edmeades said, “actively engaging in child marriage prevention activities and promoting broader changes within their communities.”

For the evaluation, Edmeades and independent research consultant Robin Hayes analyzed whether providing economic empowerment and sexual and reproductive health programming together or individually was more effective. ICRW ultimately found little evidence indicating that combining both programs yielded even better outcomes than when offering the curricula separately. While the improvements in the economic outcomes were similar across the all project groups, there was no area where the combined arm consistently outperformed the economic group. This was also true when examining the sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

However, the combined arm generally experienced changes in both the economic empowerment and health dimensions. These were greater than the comparison group and than groups receiving solely one type of intervention.

“This suggests that while there was no evidence of a synergistic effect, girls who received the combined package may have experienced the greatest overall gains from program participation,” Edmeades said. “They, more than others, benefitted markedly in terms of both economic and health outcomes.”

In other areas important to married girls’ lives, ICRW documented large and significant improvements in communication among couples, in the girls’ mental health and in the community’s support for the girls.

“Each of these outcomes has a long-term impact on the girls’ health and economic behavior,” he said.

TESFA’s presence in communities also yielded a few unexpected results. Among them, ICRW witnessed husbands taking on responsibilities traditionally reserved for wives, such as childcare and cooking. Some girls returned to school to continue their education. And most notably, community members in the villages where TESFA unfolded prevented more than 70 child marriages from taking place.

“The project was not designed to reach any of these goals,” Edmeades stressed. “But these effects of TESFA’s presence in the communities are pretty powerful – they illustrated for us that the program’s messages, particularly about the consequences of child marriage, really resonated with communities.”

In its summary of the evaluation, Edmeades and Hayes contend that although TESFA provided a much deeper understanding of the needs of child brides, much more is required for this often forgotten population of girls. This, they say, includes determining how to reach the most marginalized of these girls, including those who are divorced or widowed and how to better work with couples, among other areas of work.

“While we should continue doing everything that we can to end child marriage everywhere, we should also not forget that this remains a widespread practice in a lot of places,” Edmeades said. “Even if we are very successful in fighting child marriage, we can realistically expect more than 100 million new child brides over the next ten years. These married girls will be among the most vulnerable members of their communities. They’ll also be critical to really achieving significant change in so many development objectives.

Allowing them to stay in the shadows mustn’t be an option for any of us.”

Read the full report
Blogs, stories and other content about TESFA

Gillian Gaynair owns Mallett Avenue Media, a Washington, D.C.-based firm specializing in content that shows how foundations, nonprofits and corporations effect change in the U.S. and globally.

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