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History      Geuzen Monument      Commemoration      Geuzen Medal      Geuzenpenning Foundation     
                                                     
Speech by Princess Mabel van Oranje, Chair, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage

Your Royal Highness, dear family, friends, fellow activists, and members of the board of the Stichting Geuzenpenning, 

 

It is a tremendous honour and pleasure to be here with you today, and to receive the Geuzenpenning 2018 award on behalf of Girls Not Brides. Thank you. It is a wonderful recognition of the importance and the impact of our work.

 

Dear Lilian, thank you for your heartfelt introduction. As I have long been an admirer of your compassion, integrity and commitment to human rights, I feel privileged to be on the same stage as you. 

 

Given that child marriage is a worldwide problem, I normally speak in English about my work. However, let me use this special occasion to speak in my mother tongue.

 

[From here in Dutch]

 

When I worked in the Balkans in the early 1990s, I learned an important lesson. The brave citizens of Sarajevo showed each other and the world that resistance and change are possible – even in the most dire of circumstances. That is also the lesson of the story of the courageous Geuzen, who stood up for their freedom and whom we remember today. And that’s the lesson that we are still learning today, from all the determined activists who work across the globe to end the phenomenon of child marriage. 

 

When – almost ten years ago now – I started looking into the issue of child marriage, I was not only shocked to discover how enormous the problem was, but also that so little was being done to tackle it. This had to change.

 

We have come a long way since then.

 

Let me share some personal memories of the past years:

 

-         I clearly remember the situation in 2010. At that time I worked for The Elders, the organisation founded by Nelson Mandela, and we had our first serious conversations about creating a world without child marriage. People told us that this was impossible. The problem was too complex to tackle. Ending it would never happen; there was no point even trying.

 

Luckily, the Elders and Friso encouraged me to persist.

I am extremely proud of the progress that we jointly have achieved since that moment. Progress that is proving the sceptics wrong. We are showing that the impossible is actually possible. That the complexity of the problem should never be an excuse for inaction.

 

-         I also remember how we first brought together a group of interested civil society organisations from all over the world, in Ethiopia in June 2011, to explore whether collaboration might be helpful. I remember the old man from northern Nigeria who had been working to end child marriage in his community for more than a decade – on his own and against the odds. He burst into tears when, arriving in Ethiopia, he realised that he was no longer alone. That a global coalition of activists was coming together. That our partnership, Girls Not Brides, would allow his organisation and all other members to have more impact. That by working together, we are stronger to push governments and communities for change. And that we can be more effective when we learn from each other – about what works and what doesn’t.

 

-         I will also never forget the personal stories of the many girls whom I have met over the years. I think of the Ethiopian girl whose face became so sad when we asked her about her wedding day. She said: ‘My wedding day was the day that I had to leave school.’ I also think about the young girl from Zambia who had never heard about sex or contraceptives. The day that she found out she was pregnant was the day when she was forced into marriage.

 

-         I remember how surprised I was when I learned that child marriage happens across all religions. And that it is not only happening at a massive scale in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but also in Latin America. And even in the US and here in Europe – although in smaller numbers.

 

-         I remember the moment when we realised that change was really starting to happen. We were so excited when countries with high rates of child marriage started to take notice and committed to tackling the issue. When Nepal and Zambia were among the first countries to develop national strategies to end child marriage. That was then. Now, there are 32 countries which have, or are in the process of developing strategies!

 

-         And we were delighted when the Netherlands was among the first donor countries to make ending child marriage a priority – acknowledging the link between child marriage and many Dutch development priorities, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.

 

-         I will never forget my encounters with many impressive individuals who work extremely hard every day to improve the lives of girls. This Geuzenpenning award is a recognition of, and a tribute to, their efforts.

 

-         So, this Geuzenpenning is also for Kawusada. And for the traditional leader whom I met in Zambia who convinced his community that they should no longer marry off their girls. The Geuzenpenning is also for the young boys in Bihar, India, who collected thousands of signatures from men in their community against child marriage. It is for the young girl in Malawi who played a crucial role in increasing the legal age of marriage to 18. It is for the female Muslim clerics whom I met last week in Indonesia and who are working to end child marriage in their communities. This year’s Geuzenpenning celebrates all those individuals who are proof that we can all make a difference.

 

-         I remember the energy and excitement in the room when the United Nations General Assembly held its first-ever debate about ending child marriage. And our joy at the historic moment when child marriage was included as a target in the new UN Sustainable Development Goals.

 

-         I also recall the moment, fairly recently, when my colleagues told me that Girls Not Brides had grown to be a partnership of more than 950 member organisations in almost 100 countries. I am proud that I am working with a truly global movement – where small local organisations count as much as the big international ones. Where everyone, from every community, regardless of age or background, has a crucial role in realising our objective: a world without child marriage.

 

Before I leave you, let me share two of our many exciting plans for the future.

 

The first one is to collaborate more closely with other development sectors such as with those organisations working to improve education and health care, or to tackle violence against children. We realise that by partnering with such organisations, we are more likely to achieve a world without child marriage. And they are more likely to achieve their objectives. For example, we found out that child brides have a disproportional risk of acquiring HIV. That is why we are now working with the AIDS sector to explore how AIDS programmes can also serve child brides.

 

Similarly, we are already working together with the Dutch government on the link between child marriage and sexual and reproductive health. Together, we want to avoid girls ending up in marriage because of unplanned, early pregnancies. And we hope to do more together on girls’ education in the future.

 

Our second plan: we know that lasting change has to happen locally – in the lives of girls, their families and their communities. We know that when communities decide, child marriage does stop. Grassroots organisations have a crucial role to play in supporting these decisions. They deserve the funding that they need. Unfortunately, donors often find it hard to identify and support groups working at the local level. That is why Girls Not Brides is currently supporting the creation of a new funding mechanism focused on getting grants to community-based organisations. This is an important initiative, and we are delighted that the ‘Nationale Postcode Loterij’ will be a founding donor.

 

Ladies and gentlemen. You know me as a realist and a pragmatist. Child marriage is a centuries-old practice. Ending it won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But we now know what works to end child marriage, and we are seeing concrete change happen around the world. And let’s not forget: real change doesn’t happen because of the good intentions or lofty plans of many, but thanks to the patience and determination of some.

 

Next to the entry of this impressive church is the ‘Geuzenmonument’, made by the sculptor Leen Droppert (who comes from Vlaardingen). The sculpture shows a defiant man who wards off danger and takes a step forward with a clenched fist. This is a symbol for the Geuzen who were killed, the ‘Eighteen Dead’ of the poem of Jan Campert. The monument is also a permanent encouragement for each of us. Don’t be afraid to step forward.

 

Patience and determination will ultimately lead us to a world without child marriage. That will be a world where everybody is better educated, healthier, more prosperous, and more equal.

 

Where a girl can be a girl, and not a bride.

 

Let girls be girls, not brides.

 

Thank you.



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