Tag Archives: Omar J. Robles

14 Thursday, November 2013

How to be an activist: Your Role in 16-Day Global Campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls

By Omar J. Robles, 2y2w Contributor

Almost every week one of us on the 2y2w team is asked some variation of the following question: What can I do to help end child marriage?

Today we have a clear-cut answer: We encourage you take part in the forthcoming 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.

This year the 16-day window between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (Nov 25) and Human Rights Day (Dec 10) will draw people who champion non-violence and gender equality around the theme From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women.

This means that in less than two weeks, you can be an activist.

--- Stephanie Sinclair/VII
— Stephanie Sinclair/VII

You can turn your social media platforms into amplifiers for non-violence and gender equality or into forums where people can publicly affirm their support for a world where women and girls no longer suffer violence or live in fear of it.

So, let’s step up. Join 2y2w: link up with thousands of other organizations and millions of people in this global effort to spread the word about the unacceptable status quo. As of today, the UN estimates that 7 out of every 10 women experience some form of violence in their life. This includes the harmful practices that the 2y2w initiative strives to end.

The first thing to do is connect with the campaign. Here’s how to do that:

Check out the website: http://16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu

“Like” or Follow the campaign on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/16DaysCampaign

View the campaign’s Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16dayscampaign

Join the 16 Days Listserv: https://email.rutgers.edu/mailman/listinfo/16days_discussion

Track the online Campaign Calendar: http://16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu/campaign-calendar

Get behind the Tumblr feed: http://cwgl.tumblr.com/

Stay connected and join the conversation via Twitter: #16days; @16DaysCampaign; @CWGLRutgers

The next thing is to make your voice heard and to relay some key campaign messages. Here are sample posts that the campaign has already disseminated for people to push through the social media platforms:

Mark your calendars! #16days of Activism begins November 25th. Stand up & say #EndGBV!

Peace in the Home to Peace in the World #16days 2013

1 in 5 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime #16days

Violence kills and disables as many women between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer #16days

An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the 
consequences of female genital mutilation #16days

Military spending in 2011 is estimated to have been $1,738 billion. Approximately $711 billion was spent by the United States alone #16days

Having one or more guns in the home makes a woman 7.2 times more likely to be the victim of a homicide #16days

Where will you be during the #16days Campaign?

Women’s Rights ARE Human Rights! #16days

Support human rights defenders! November 29th: International Women Human Rights Defenders Day! #16days

Of course the links between any one individual’s activism and the end of child marriage – a form of gender-based violence and a human rights violation – is tenuous and fragmented. However, one person’s actions as part of a collective can have an impact. History is filled with individuals acting en masse to promote social justice.

Be an individual, one who chooses to be part of the mass.

You have more than enough time to prepare and to encourage others to do the same. As you do, we invite you to share your stories with us via Facebook, Twitter and in the comment box below.

Since its launch in 1991, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign rallied over 5,000 organizations and millions of activists in approximately 187 countries around an annual campaign to end violence against women. Structured around a theme, the global campaign aims to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue. At events worldwide, the 16 Days Campaign will specifically call attention to three topics: (1) Violence Perpetrated by State Actors; (2) Domestic Violence and the Role of Small Arms; and (3) Sexual Violence During and After Conflict.

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30 Wednesday, October 2013

Déjà vu: despite the progress, adolescent pregnancy is still a leading cause of death for girls

By Omar J. Robles, 2y2w Contributor

In 2003, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) called for greater investment into adolescent girls’ health and rights in its annual report, The State of World Population. In addition to laying out governments’ obligations under international law to respect, protect, and fulfill adolescent girls’ rights, the flagship report outlined the harmful consequences of global inaction for their lives, for their families and for their countries.

The 2003 report called attention to the leading cause of death for girls: “Pregnancy is a leading cause of death for young women aged 15 to 19 worldwide, with complications of childbirth and unsafe abortion being the major factors . . . . Some 14 million women and girls between ages 15 and 19—both married and unmarried—give birth each year.”

Ten years later, UNFPA is once again turning its attention to adolescent girls. The 2013 State of World Population will drive attention to adolescent pregnancy and the transition from childhood to motherhood in particular.

--- Stephanie Sinclair/VII
— Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Despite the progress that has been made since 2003—increased investments, policies and interventions aimed at empowering adolescent girls with the education, information and skills that are associated with better health and livelihoods—these gains have been uneven within and across countries.

Often the poorest, most socially marginalized women and girls remain unable to realize their health and human rights. Young and female, adolescent girls in particular still face a double-discrimination that stifles expectations of them, constrains resources from them and limits opportunities for them.

Unfortunately, this year’s report is akin to experiencing a déjà vu. These facts, and the consequences of adolescent pregnancy, have been known for some time.

Earlier this year on World Population Day the UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, released a statement that framed this issue with the latest figures. His statement read: “About 16 million girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, and complications from pregnancy and child birth are the leading cause of death among girls in this age group, especially in developing countries.” The UN estimates suggest that nine in 10 of these births among young adolescent girls occur within marriage or unions.

For context, the sum of 16 million adolescent girls is more than the combined population of New York City and Hong Kong; this figure doesn’t include the two million girls under age 15 who give birth every year. The increased number of adolescent pregnancies is in part the result our living in a time when the largest generation of adolescents in human history is in the midst of a transition into adulthood.

(Not) surprisingly, many of the broad-strokes recommendations related to adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health have also been the same since 2003: enacting and enforcing child marriage laws at national and community levels; shifting norms that condone violence and perpetuate the social marginalization of women and girls; getting “age-appropriate” sexuality education and quality reproductive health services to young girls and boys; and ensuring girls complete primary and secondary education—an outcome associated with several health, social and economic gains for girls.

That recommendations in lengthy reports often leave intervention-oriented details unanswered doesn’t discredit their relevance; a substantial body of research supports most all of them. Fact is that when the international community engages in dialogue about adolescent health, a consensus emerges: a great deal is known about what it takes to empower girls and to prevent almost all pregnancy-related deaths and complications.

But maybe it’s time to delve more deeply into how a diverse range of stakeholders can concretely, effectively and safely implement these recommendations.

--- Stephanie Sinclair/VII
— Stephanie Sinclair/VII

As it stands, the State of the World Population report often intersperses “good practices”—a way of highlighting an effective, model approach—in text boxes throughout the report.

Where might we be 10 years from now if an annual flagship report used its influential platform and global reach to outline an adaptable “model” approach to reducing adolescent pregnancy?

Consolidating effective intervention designs across a range of key recommendations would be no simple task, but it could help accelerate progress.

Perhaps more policymakers and practitioners who work in development and humanitarian contexts would pick it up, applying effective girl-centered strategies that mitigate girls’ risks of early pregnancy and marriage. Of course context matters, and copy/paste is no solution. Yet getting practical and helping greater numbers of well-intentioned and talented actors to see girls and to apply effective strategies would help change the status quo.

It’s possible. And the possibility alone might be reason enough to prioritize doing so; I’d like to envision a future in which we are no longer outlining similar recommendations and referencing a largely unchanged reality for millions of young girls.

Empowerment is how we get there. I get it, many of my colleagues do and others are being brought on board. As a champion for gender equality, for non-violence and for adolescent girls’ health and human rights, I can’t help but feel that more in the way of how to realize these goals within the context of program funding, management, implementation and evaluation could help. Having seen the statistics over the last 10 years and listened to feedback from colleagues and adolescent girls in several countries, it admittedly would help many of us do our jobs better.

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8 Tuesday, October 2013

UN resolution acknowledges child marriage as human rights violation

By Omar J. Robles, 2y2w Contributor

The United Nations has laid out several frameworks, conventions and resolutions that establish international law and human rights. Some are general, outlining principles that cover all people while leaving for interpretation the details. Some are specific, linking human rights principles to a particular population or issue.

Getting international bodies to do the latter is very often a key goal for advocacy groups and individuals who seek equality and justice. International consensus can fuel national efforts to ensure that all people are able to realize their human rights. Put another way, getting countries to sign UN conventions and resolutions promotes accountability, even if it doesn’t guarantee it.

For the first time ever, we can now add child marriage to the list: more than 100 countries have explicitly stated that child marriage is a human rights violation that must be stopped.

--- Stephanie Sinclair/VII
— Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Last month, the UN Human Rights Council — the leading UN body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world — adopted the first-ever UN resolution on child, early and forced marriage. The move came just two weeks before the second annual International Day of the Girl Child, celebrated this Friday, Oct. 11. A diverse group of 107 countries affirmed that the choice to marry is an adult decision that should be informed and made freely without fear, coercion or undue pressure.

Among those countries that signed the resolution are several that have a relatively high prevalence of child marriage: Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Guatemala, Honduras and Yemen.

Previously, UN Agencies, advocacy groups and girls themselves had relied on — and still will — other human rights instruments that reference child marriage, within the context of broader frameworks.

For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) both outlawed child marriage. Additionally, at the International Conference on Population and Development (1994), 197 countries adopted the ICPD Programme of Action, which called on countries to eliminate child marriage and to enforce laws that ensure free and full consent.

Even though policies on paper do not directly translate into changes on the ground, last month’s global consensus marks a shift in awareness about child marriage and the priority attention it deserves. For example, the new UN resolution stresses the need to include child, early and forced marriage in the post-2015 international development agenda.

Progress at international fora, however, cannot overshadow the ongoing struggles that child brides and young girls vulnerable to marriage still face. Decades have passed since countries first signed human rights documents that affirm child marriage is a violation of girls’ universal human rights. During this time, millions of girls have married, especially in poor and rural parts of countries in the developing world.

As UN-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asserted in his recent annual report to the UN General Assembly, “The practice of child marriage must be ended everywhere.” Advocates agree, including young girls and child brides who live in countries that did not sign the UN resolution last month. They’ve agreed for years.

It’s now time to move beyond consensus to action; we know the solutions.

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29 Thursday, August 2013

Action needed in South Sudan: Two years after its independence, nearly half of all girls marry as children

By Omar J. Robles, 2y2w Contributor

More than two years after the festive atmosphere and the international attention have subsided, a more comprehensive response to child marriage must become an explicit priority for South Sudan to achieve its development goals.

Eight years have passed since South Sudan gained its regional autonomy, and two years have passed since the nation gained its independence in a referendum vote. Policymakers and citizens rightfully celebrated the omnipresent hope for a better future at ceremonies following the end of a 22-year civil war in January 2005 and the founding of a new nation in July 2011.

Independence Day Pride. © Maggie Dougherty

Fulfilling this hope for a better future—and the autonomy and independence upon which it rests—depends considerably on the nation’s ability to ensure that the next generation of South Sudan’s girls is able to realize its full potential. South Sudan is currently failing nearly half of them: national surveys estimate that 48 percent of girls marry as children.[i]

The newly formed government has recognized that girls matter; it has adopted an array of measures that make gender equality and women’s empowerment cornerstones of its national agenda. The next step is to transfer the initial foray of legal and policy reforms into actions that can have real impacts in girls’ lives—actions that can help ensure that South Sudan’s next generation of young women are able to realize their rights.

To begin, South Sudan should enforce South Sudan’s Child Act 2008, which sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years. Legislation is important, but alone insufficient. In May 2013, the Minister of Gender and Child Affairs, Agnes Kwaje Losuba, admitted that the government does not enforce the legislation. [ii] To be effective, laws and policies require adequate resources, training and accountability mechanisms. The minister’s statement underscores the limited political commitment for ending child marriage among leaders in South Sudan.

A comprehensive response to end child marriage must also address the underlying factors that make young girls vulnerable to child marriage.

While there is no panacea approach to prevention, ensuring that girls complete primary and secondary education is a critical starting point: when a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries on average four years later.

Attending School in South Sudan. © Maggie Dougherty.
Attending School in South Sudan. © Maggie Dougherty.

Education is also an investment associated with significant returns for generations to come. In many countries, each additional year of formal education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining in school for up to an additional one-half year. Thus when girls are empowered with knowledge and skills, they are considerably more likely to send their children to school and help break the intergenerational chain of poverty that impedes individual progress and national development.

In South Sudan, where girls respectively make up only 39 percent and 30 percent of students in primary and secondary school, the government has to complement a stronger legal, policy and regulatory framework with community-focused interventions that shift perceptions around the expectations, roles and aspirations for girls. Community-based interventions in several countries have already demonstrated that parents—instead of seeing their daughters as tradable assets whose virginity increases their value—can come to view them as individuals worthy of obtaining the social, economic and health benefits that are associated with educational achievement.

Political leaders will have to tackle head-on the resistance from community leaders who champion customary laws, which are rooted in traditions that often infringe on the rights of women and girls. In South Sudan—where customary laws sidestep statutory laws and govern marriage, dowries and inheritance laws[iii]—the government must ensure that child marriage is no longer perpetuated in the name of tradition and culture.

Young mother and her child © Maggie Dougherty
Young mother and her child © Maggie Dougherty

Many communities in South Sudan view marriage as being in the best interests of girls and their families. Child marriage is seen as protecting girls from pre-marital sex and pregnancy before marriage, avoiding dishonor to the child and her family. The traditional practice of transferring wealth through the payment of dowries is a key way for families to access much-needed resources (e.g., cattle, money and other gifts). Customary practices attach great social and economic importance to dowry payment, as well as a husband’s rights over his wife. Under many South Sudanese customary law systems, divorce is not widely accepted and only possible when the dowry is repaid to the husband’s family—a requirement that can make it difficult to get a divorce since the dowry is often shared amongst the bride’s extended family.

Arguments that assert customs and traditions cannot justify human rights violations. Culture and tradition offer meaning and identity to many people, yet these same socially constructed norms can pose significant barriers to the empowerment of women and girls in particular—to their education, to sexual and reproductive health, to their livelihoods, and to their opportunities to realize their human potential, free from coercion, abuse or violence.

South Sudan has overcome many hurdles, and tensions across and within its borders still give pause. However, as the nation presses ahead toward fulfilling the hope for an autonomous, independent and better future, it cannot ignore the harmful practice that undermines that goal. When the 55-member Constitutional Review Commission that President Salva Kiir appointed in 2012 to assess and improve the country’s current transitional constitution reports its findings in December 2013, the commission should make this point explicit. It is within its purview to strengthen the role and jurisdiction of statutory laws (over customary laws) in alignment with international human rights standards.



[i] UNICEF (2013). Childinfo: Monitoring the Situation of Women and Children. “Percentage of women aged 20–24 who were first married/in union before the age of 18.”
Link: http://www.childinfo.org/marriage_countrydata.php

[ii] IPS News (2013). “Marrying Off South Sudan’s Girls for Cows.”
Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/marrying-off-south-sudans-girls-for-cows/

[iii]  HRW (2013). “South Sudan: End Widespread Child Marriage.” New York: Human Rights Watch

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19 Monday, August 2013

The world needs more #________

By: Omar J. Robles, 2y2w Contributor

What do you think the world needs, the humanitarian community to be more specific? On this World Humanitarian Day, voicing your thoughts can help make a difference.

Shortly after a bombing at the UN Headquarters in Iraq killed 22 aid workers ten years ago, the UN designated August 19th as World Humanitarian Day. The day This year the UN is asking the global public to participate in a month-long campaign to raise much-needed funds to support humanitarian assistance that helps to save and rebuild the lives of people affected by conflict or national disasters.

The social media campaign calls on people to voice or sponsor a one-word response to the following phrase: The world needs more # _______.

Of course there is no panacea response. #Food, #Water, #Healthcare, #Opportunity, #Equality, #Justice, #Solidarity, the list goes on …

In keeping with the links between World Humanitarian Day and Too Young to Wed’s goals of protecting girl’s rights and ending child marriage, we propose a word that could help humanitarian actors to better leverage their collective resources for girls who are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and violence during emergencies: #Focus.

C/O: WorldHumanitarianDay.org
C/O: WorldHumanitarianDay.org

Even before crisis displacement, adolescent girls are exceptionally vulnerable to violence as they transition from childhood to adulthood (1). They begin taking on adult roles but without some of the capabilities and skills they need. Their emerging sexuality becomes a source of anxiety for parents and constrains their mobility.

Young and female, adolescent girls around the world remain symbols of purity and defilement, contributing to the rigidity of expectations for them, and the consequences for any departure from these expectations. What girls represent—not only who they are—has implications for their access to schooling and other resources often most readily available at this phase of life. These factors, and the norms that dictate family roles, division of household labor, and access to resources disadvantage women and girls in most countries, shape girls’ vulnerabilities to experiencing abuse, exploitation and violence.

Humanitarian crises exacerbate girls’ vulnerabilities in many ways. Institutions, systems, and community cohesion that support resilience to violence against women and girls are often weakened or destroyed. Additionally, poverty and financial hardship leave girls especially vulnerable to multiple forms of sexual and gender-based violence, including risky livelihoods and child marriage. Among the list of 30 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage, more than half are considered fragile or conflicted-affected states that have received development or humanitarian aid (2, 3).  The adult roles that girls often assume during crises increases their isolation and breaks bonds with their peers and with other social networks that provide them with a social safety net.

Despite these unique risks they face, humanitarian responses generally overlook adolescent girls, bundling adolescent girls’ needs and vulnerabilities with those of younger children or adult women. This commonplace, one-size-fits all approach that neglects adolescent girls’ sex- and age-specific realities make assumptions that do not maximize their safety and access to services.

The humanitarian community, the world, would benefit from more #Focus.

#Focus could help the humanitarian community to more heavily rely on disaggregated data to improves how lifesaving information and services in delivered, including for adolescent girls who are among the most vulnerable.

#Focus could help the humanitarian community be more accountable to all affected population groups, tailoring services for (and with) the most socially marginalized groups and for adolescent girls.

#Focus could help the humanitarian community leverage what it knows works – shelter, food, water, light, health services, schooling, safe physical spaces, nationality, and livelihood opportunities – to rebuild peoples’ lives in targeted and meaningful ways. Given that the average length of stay in refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps is now reaching 20 years (up from nine-year average in the 1990s), humanitarian responses are increasingly accountable to individuals as they mature through formative stages in their lives – from childhood, through adolescent and into adulthood (4).

#Focus is no panacea, nor the most catchy response … but it could (really) help.

1. Levine R, Lloyd C, Greene M and Grown C (2008). Girls Count: A Global Investment and Action Agenda. Washington DC: Center for Global Development.

2. OECD (2012). 2011 Report on Financial Resource Flows: Ensuring Fragile States are not Left Behind. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

3.  UNFPA. (2012). Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage. New York: United Nations Population Fund.

4. UNHCR (2012). State of the World’s Refugees 2012: In Search of Solidarity. Geneva: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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