Author Archives: 2Y2W

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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3 Thursday, April 2014

Artist seeks inspiring father-daughter tales

Sushma Verma finished high school when she was 7 and earned an undergraduate degree at 13.

That sort of achievement at such a young age would be noteworthy all by itself. But in India—where 47 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthdays, effectively ending their education—what happened next makes the story even more amazing.

Debasmita 'Smita' Dasgupta dedicated this illustration to Sushma and her father.
Debasmita ‘Smita’ Dasgupta dedicated this illustration to Sushma and her father.

When the teen from a poor family in northern India wanted to pursue a master’s degree in microbiology, her father, an uneducated construction worker who earns less than $3.50 a day, was determined to make that happen.

So he sold what little land he owned to cover some of her school fees. He hopes the sacrifice will propel his daughter into the middle class.

Until then, Sushma lives with her father and mother, who is illiterate, and her three younger siblings in a one-room apartment in Lucknow. Other than a second-hand computer, the home has no amenities. That suits Sushma just fine.

“There is nothing to do but study,” she told the Associated Press, noting that her academic success is closely linked to her parents’ support. “They allowed me to do what I wanted to do. I hope that other parents don’t impose their choices on their children.”

In July, Too Young to Wed told you about Indian-born artist Smita Dasgupta’s illustrated series “mY FaTHer,” which celebrates the stories of fathers who defend the rights of their children, including those who stand against child marriage. Inspired by the story of Sushma’s perseverance and her father’s sacrifice, Dasgupta drew the image at the top of this page.

Dasgupta, who has a close relationship with her own father, has been equally inspired by father-daughter stories out of Pakistan, Iran, Thailand, Poland, Singapore and the United States. Just in time for Father’s Day, she’s inviting grateful sons and daughters around the world to submit stories or drawings to her for publication on her Facebook page in June.

Entries should be submitted by May 30 to

As for Sushma, when she turns 18, she’ll be old enough to apply to medical school, something she’s already planning to do.

“I always dreamed of becoming a doctor,” she said.

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27 Thursday, March 2014

Indian NGO boasts Girl Power

At 13, Laali wasn’t sure what she wanted to be when she grew up. But she knew she wanted the opportunity to find out.

So when her family started planning her wedding, she turned to her teachers at the Pehchan Project for help.

Together, the youngster and a dedicated team of educators in a rural area near Jaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan were able to convince her parents to delay her marriage and let her continue her studies.

Advocating for the rights of young girls is a hallmark of the project, run by the Centre for Unfolding Learning Potentials (CULP). The nongovernmental organization targets young girls—and even a few boys—who have dropped out of school or who have never attended, and brings them up to speed so they can attend mainstream schools. The organization estimates that these “bridge courses” have reached 30,000 girls since the project started 12 years ago.

The group also has ongoing conversations with parents about the importance of keeping their children in school, and it’s not uncommon for girls like Laali to seek their assistance in preventing early marriage.

Too Young to Wed’s Stephanie Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock visited CULP during a trip to India last year, and some of the program’s students are featured in a short film on this website. So we’re thrilled to hear that earlier this month, CULP earned a Dasra Girl Power Award in the category of education. The Girl Power Awards stem from the idea that empowering adolescent girls ultimately addresses a host of society’s ills, from reducing child and maternal mortality and the spread of HIV/AIDS to breaking the cycle of poverty. The awards program is a collaborative effort among Dasra, one of India’s leading philanthropic foundations, USAID and The Kiawah Charitable Trust, which focuses on empowering adolescent girls from poor Indian communities.

Nearly 200 organizations applied for the awards, which recognize programs that work with adolescent girls in three main areas: education, health and life skills. A jury culled applicants down to 17 finalists before choosing one winner in each of the three categories. Like the other two winning organizations, CULP will receive 1 million rupees—almost $17,000—in funding to support its projects.

That money should come in handy. Right now, CULP works in 760 villages in India. But over the next three years, it hopes to expand to an additional 500—increasing school enrollment, especially among adolescent girls, and promoting community ownership in the schools.

That’s an especially important effort in India, which has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. About 47 percent of girls are married before the age of 18—56 percent in rural communities like the one Laali lives in. An estimated 26 million Indian women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before their 18th birthdays, and another 28 million will face the same fate over the next two decades if current trends continue, according to data gathered by UNFPA, the UN Population Fund.

Because girls with no education are more than three times as likely to marry as children than girls who attend secondary school, CULP and other programs like it are instrumental in ending child marriage.

For Laali, now 15, that means a future full of possibilities, all of her choosing.

“What do I want to do in the future in my life? I will study and be what God makes of me,” she said. “We study and we can be anything.”

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