Tag Archives: Stephanie Sinclair
In January, several members of the Too Young to Wed team had the privilege of conducting an Adolescent Girls Photography Workshop with some incredible young women in Kenya, all of whom had escaped child marriage. In honor of today’s International Women’s Day, we’d like to share the following piece about that experience, which was first published by National Geographic and reprinted with their permission.
“Every two seconds a girl is married,” says photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who’s going on her 14th year of documenting the issue of child marriage. The issue has gained traction in the global conversation, but Sinclair knows that the girls affected need help now. “We have to make sure we’re reaching them on the ground,” she says. “It’s really important to walk the talk.”
In an effort to do that, Sinclair started a nonprofit, Too Young to Wed, in 2012. Just a few weeks ago it partnered with Fuji Film and the Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF)—an organization that rescues vulnerable girls from harmful practices in rural Kenya—to put on a photography workshop for 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 14.
At the beginning of the workshop, as Sinclair was showing the students her photography, she asked about their familiarity with child marriage. A girl named Angela raised her hand. She had run away when she heard she was going to be married off. Sinclair then asked if any of them had heard of a situation like Angela’s. The other nine girls raised their hands—they had all escaped marriage.
“Girl empowerment is one of the strongest prevention techniques to end child marriage,” says Sinclair. By teaching basic photography skills, the workshop affirmed the value of their voices and their stories—stories that many of the girls had never told. That soon changed.
Their first assignment was to make a portrait of a partner. As Sinclair explains, “We paired them off into twos. To make a great portrait you have to know who you’re photographing; you have to share your story with your partner. Some girls had never shared their stories before. That was very powerful. We were a little taken aback when they had such an emotional reaction, but some of the girls who had shared their stories before said, ‘No, no. They need to do this.’ ”
A small, but dedicated operation, SGF has rescued almost 235 girls from traumatic situations. Its teams try their best to provide education for the girls, but they don’t have the resources to offer counseling. In its place, the photo workshop became a form of therapy, beginning the process of healing.
The vulnerability the girls exchanged is visible in the portraits they made.
“It was really unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” says Sinclair. “The portraits that came out were quite powerful for girls who had only picked up the camera the day before. I think they found photography [to be] a way to communicate what they’d been through.”
The finale of the workshop was an exhibition of the photos, when each girl who wanted to had an opportunity to present her work and share her story. To prepare them, the teachers coached the girls to amplify not only their visual voices but also their speaking voices. Sinclair describes first meeting the girls, when many of them spoke in a whisper.
“We were worried that their voices would be so soft the audience wouldn’t hear them,” she says. “The more confident they got, the louder they spoke.”
The afternoon of the exhibition, about 70 people came—chiefs of the girls’ villages, some of their parents.
“Each girl presented the photo they did of the other girl,” says Sinclair. “I left it up to them what they wanted to say about the photographs they did of their friends. Most of them shared their stories. All of them talked about what they wanted to be when they were older. And all of them talked about how they wanted to help the community and prevent girls from going through what they had gone through.
“They got up there and screamed into the microphone so much that it was cracking: ‘My name is Jane. I am 12 years old. I have been circumcised, and my parents tried to marry me off.’ The audience was crying, the girls were crying. We were all crying. It’s almost like they were taking their power back and expressing all these things that they wanted to say for the first time to the public, to their community.”
As 2015 comes to a close, the Too Young to Wed [TYTW] team would like to take a moment to say ‘thank you’ to our wonderful supporters and partners working with us to end child marriage around the world. You have helped us raise awareness of this crucially important issue and support the millions of girls around the world who have sacrificed their futures by becoming brides too soon. TYTW accomplished a tremendous amount in our first year of existence, and we could not have done it without you! Your commitment and support helped us:
- Partner with the United Nations and The New York Times on a multimedia project about the devastating effects of child marriage in Guatemala. This November, nine months after the story’s publication, Guatemalan lawmakers passed legislation raising the country’s minimum age of marriage to 18!
- Collaborate as a founding partner of The Girl Generation on a global effort to raise awareness on the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). TYTW shared the powerful story of FGM survivor Kakenya Ntaiya, who was engaged at just 5-years-old but negotiated with her family to remain in school, then went on to earn a Ph.D. and open a school for girls in Kenya.
- Partner with the Canadian government to host several global photo exhibitions, including one in Khartoum, Sudan that catalyzed the adoption of a national strategy on child marriage. TYTW also hosted photo exhibitions in the United States, Bangladesh and Argentina.
- Exhibit in Photoville 2015, a photo extravaganza in N.Y.C. that attracted more than 76,000 visitors and featured installations, workshops and panel talks, including one with TYTW Founder Stephanie Sinclair. The event coincided with TYTW’s first print sale, which raised funds to help us provide support in communities where TYTW works.
- Participate in the First African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa this November in Zambia, where leaders from across the African continent discussed challenges to ending child marriage (more on that in 2016!).
- In addition, for her work covering child brides, Sinclair received the prestigious Art for Peace award at the annual Science for Peace World Conference in Milan, Italy, and the Lucie Foundation Humanitarian Award in New York – further raising the profile of the issue.
While 2015 was a big year for us, 2016 looks even bigger – and with our talented and inspired team, and your generous assistance, we expect to help the world take its biggest steps yet toward wiping out this harmful practice forever.
If you would like to do more to help us in the global fight against child marriage, there is still time left to make a valuable, tax-deductible donation to Too Young To Wed before the year concludes.
Once again, thank you for standing with our girls and helping us amplify their voices so that we can make change together. From our homes to yours, we wish you a peaceful holiday season.
By Christina Piaia and Emilia Vasella, 2y2w team members
The global Girl Summit, hosted by the British government and UNICEF last month in London, was no small affair.
Representatives from 50 different countries along with NGO’s, UN agencies, faith organizations, business and community leaders, and a host of grassroots activists attended the event, pledging to end child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) within a generation. Commitments ranged from financial support for programs dedicated to protecting at-risk girls to legislative efforts designed to prosecute those responsible for the atrocities.
Amid the promises from powerbrokers came a powerful call to action from none other than an 18-year-old Pakistani girl. Farwa Khalil’s parents couldn’t afford her school fees, so they pulled her from classes in the eighth grade, intending to marry her off.
Farwa was lucky. Plans for her marriage were scuttled when an aunt agreed to cover the cost of educating her. Farwa, who wants to become an engineer, has used the years since then to advocate for girls. She participated in the Youth For Change conference just prior to the Girl Summit, then shared with summit participants her own efforts to end child marriage and ensure girls have the same educational and economic opportunities as boys.
“Now it’s your turn,” she challenged the audience during the summit’s opening. “What are you going to do to end child marriage?”
Most of the 600 or so delegates who attended the summit have returned home, and the halls of host Walworth Academy are likely much quieter for it. But Farwa’s question still rings in our ears and should for a good, long time. What are we going to do? British Prime Minister David Cameron himself acknowledged during the event that it’s not enough to pass laws and spend money. Though that’s a decent start, without changing the culture that encourages and permits girls to be treated as chattel, progress will be limited and a long time coming. What’s needed is a clear objective and plenty of grassroots-level follow-through, said Cameron.
“I go to lots of conferences and events and seminars and think tanks and all the rest of it, and sometimes you sit there and you’re not quite sure what you’re trying to achieve,” he told summit participants. “Here, it is absolutely clear about what we are trying to achieve: it is such a simple but noble and good ambition, and that is to outlaw the practices of female genital mutilation and childhood and early forced marriage—to outlaw them everywhere, for everyone within this generation. That is the aim. That is the ambition.”
That kind of change starts with a conversation, uncomfortable though it may be. An abridged version of the Too Young to Wed exhibit accompanied the Girl Summit. The stark images by photographer Stephanie Sinclair have provided heartbreaking evidence in support of the data, and they’ve served as a jumping-off point for many discussions about these issues in recent years.
UNICEF estimates that some 700 million women around the world were married as children, and the UNFPA warns that another 142 million girls face the same fate over the next decade. Roughly 125 million women and girls worldwide are estimated to be living with the consequences of female genital mutilation. Those numbers are almost inconceivable. But the faces of the girls who are victims of these practices are very, very real.
There is 15-year-old Sarita, her face glistening with tears, after she and her 8-year-old sister are married off in their Indian village. There is Tehani, raped at the age of 6 by her 25-year-old husband. And there is Asia, a Yemeni girl of 14, who struggles to care for her 2-year-old and a newborn while still bleeding and ill from childbirth.
At the exhibition, two young girls not much older than Asia stood before the photo of her washing her baby, whispering to each other. Photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who has been documenting child marriage for a dozen years, stopped to chat with them and urged them to promote change by speaking up.
“We had no idea this was going on,” one of the girls told Sinclair.
Luckily, awareness of child marriage and FGM are on the rise, thanks to advocacy work by groups like Girls Not Brides and Equality Now and the high-level conversations that give rise to events like Girl Summit 2014. Perhaps even more importantly, those conversations are beginning to happen at the local level by engaging parents, young girls and boys, and religious and community leaders who understand the cultural implications of these practices and are uniquely suited to offering meaningful, long-term solutions.
So as Farwa so bluntly and eloquently put it: What are we going to do? How do we go from talking about these issues—what Cameron referred to collectively as “preventable evil”—to doing something that produces real, measurable results?
The international charter that accompanied Girl Summit 2014 seemed to anticipate this concern. It urges signatories, including more than 30 national governments, to gather more and better data about child marriage and FGM and share that information with change-makers; to support youth-led initiatives; to invest in girls across educational, health, justice and social programs; and to back up policies and laws with tangible support for locally based efforts. “Lasting change will come from communities themselves,” the charter says.
As a necessary accountability measure, the commitments of those who signed the charter “will be monitored and assessed on an annual basis,” and the results will be published online for all to see.
The charter also notes that the responsibility for ending child marriage and FGM rests on broad shoulders. Governments, NGO’s and international organizations have important roles to play, but the success of their efforts depends largely on their ability to engage everyone from teens like Farwa to village elders, long considered the keepers of tradition.
“Traditions are not sent from heaven, they are not sent from God. [It is us] who make cultures,” Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai told the summit. “We have the right to change it and we should change it. Those traditions that go against the health of girls, they should be stopped.”
It’s important too that everyone understands that progress for girls and women means progress for everyone. Buying into that reality is essential for us to go from talking about these problems to fixing them.
“This is one of the most important messages that we need to get out there: that FGM and forced marriage aren’t just ‘women’s problems,’ ” UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said during the summit. “These practices aren’t just confined to the developing world. They impact every single one of us, and no country can afford to ignore them.”
By Stephanie Sinclair, photographer
Happy New Year friends!
I just wanted to personally send a note to say THANK YOU for your continued interest and efforts to end child marriage by supporting the Too Young To Wed campaign. Since its launch in Oct. 2012, the Too Young to Wed community has grown into a broad, diverse community led by social media activists like you. Together, our collective voice has helped focus the world’s attention on this personally and socially damaging practice.
While there is still much work to be done, there is also much to celebrate. We have made great strides!
The stories of the young women and children shared in the Too Young To Wed project have touched us all deeply; they have found their way into our hearts and shaken us to our core. It’s the kind of revelation no one wants, but once we finally understand the scale of the horror these women and children face all over the world, every single day, we cannot remain silent. We spread the word through our own personal grapevines, our circles of influence, our family, our friends, their friends, on and on. As our numbers grow, our voice grows louder, creating a “ripple effect” powerful enough to create the change we all long to see.
And it is precisely because of voices like yours that the Too Young to Wed team was able to help make 2013 the year that the world finally began to wake up to the horrific realities of child marriage.
Since we started, images from the campaign flooded the mainstream media, appearing in more than 100 online and print media outlets including CNN, The New York Times and National Geographic. Powerful exhibitions opened eyes all over the world, including at the United Nations, the rotunda in the U.S. Senate’s Russell Office Building, at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, as organized and hosted in partnership with the Canadian Parliament, and The Netherlands House of Parliament in the Hague.
Too Young to Wed raised awareness about child marriage around the world in 2013 including at the fifth annual Oslo Freedom Forum, where I addressed the international gathering in Norway’s capital. I was also interviewed at length by NBC’s Ann Curry for her online series Depth of Field, where we talked about the stories behind some of the most moving images of the campaign.
Thanks to you, our voice through social media was powerful and we had an amazing Instagram campaign that brought 500,000+ likes to our images and stories of children who bravely refused their marriages in India.
As a result of all of our hard work, and that of our colleagues working on the issue globally, world leaders took notice in 2013!
- March – At the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, states were called on to end the practice of child, early and forced marriage.
- May – “Ending child marriage” was recommended for inclusion by a high level panel in the post-2015 development agenda as a crucial step to address global poverty.
- August – In a report to the UN General Assembly, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, stated “the practice of child marriage must be ended everywhere.”
- September – Over 100 states adopted first-ever resolution on child, early and forced marriage at the Human Rights Council, the leading UN body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.
- October – On International Day of the Girl 2013, people around the world called for urgent action to end child marriage. US President Barack Obama called child marriage a “fundamental threat to human rights.”
- December – African ministers set an ambitious target: to eliminate child marriage by 2020.
(Monthly milestones provided by GirlsNotBrides.org)
As big as 2013 was, we have even more exciting plans for 2014 and encourage you to continue to share this journey with us. We are each important spokes in the wheel of change and Too Young to Wed is working on new ways to keep every member of this initiative feeling both part of a wider community and able to share the powerful stories of these young women and girls.
Too Young To Wed has no intention of slowing down in 2014: to further engage each of you, new interactive features will come to our website soon; a brand-new call to action will hit the airwaves in the coming months; the traveling Too Young To Wed multimedia exhibit will continue its own journey, being strategically displayed at venues worldwide – in January find it on display at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York City and in the Netherlands at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and as the year progresses, we will remain committed to exposing the global child marriage scourge by documenting the everyday lives of these very special young women and children.
On a personal note, as I pause to reflect, I want to let you know how thankful I am for the thousands of you who have joined this initiative. I remain in awe of you as individuals and in the power we have found together. I am overjoyed and energized thinking about what we can accomplish in the year ahead. The wheel of change is moving forward with your help, and I am honored to be on this journey with you. Now, more than ever, I am confident that we will see the end of child marriage in our lifetime.
Tomorrow marks the second International Day of the Girl Child, an observance very dear to the Too Young to Wed team and lots of other amazing groups around the world working hard to make sure girls grow up safe and healthy, confident and educated.
The inaugural celebration last year coincided with a photo exhibit at the United Nations, a reception attended by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin among other luminaries, and the release of “Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage.”
The 76-page report from the UNFPA outlined the negative global consequences of child marriage and warned that, without action, 142 million girls could be subject to the practice over the next decade.
“Let this be a call to action,” Ki-moon said at the time. “Let us end child marriage in this generation.”
We’re pleased to note that much progress has been made over the last year—including the recent adoption of the UN resolution on child, early and forced marriage by the UN Human Rights Council.
Still, we have a long way to go. The Too Young to Wed exhibit, including photographs by Stephanie Sinclair and video by Jessica Dimmock, just wrapped up a six-week visit to Montreal. We hope that as it continues to travel the globe, it raises awareness of the importance of protecting girls from harmful practices like child marriage—a shameful institution that limits the potential not only of the girls, but of entire communities.
If you’d like to join us in bringing attention to the issue, here are a few suggestions:
- Share this new video by Girls Not Brides, which in less than three minutes explains how child marriage perpetuates poverty, health crises, violence and lack of opportunity in communities around the world.
- Visit 11daysofaction.org, an effort by Girl Up that shares inspiring stories of girls from around the world and offers several ways to join the effort via social media.
- Check out Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., or simply tune in to http://wovexhibition.org/live-stream at 7:30 p.m. tonight to watch a panel of 11 award-winning photographers—including our own Stephanie Sinclair—discuss their ground-breaking work with journalist Ann Curry.
The exhibit itself is not exclusively focused on child marriage. The stunning images on display through March 9, which are also included in a book available in the museum’s store, cover a myriad of topics, from 21st century slavery to the chemistry of the teenage brain. But they’re a shining example of the power of photography, an art Too Young to Wed relies heavily on to share its message.
More importantly, they represent the tremendous impact women can have when given the freedom and the opportunity to pursue their passion—a human right we’d like to see granted to every girl on earth.