Feminist Activist Kembabazi Joan and Her Strike Against Child Marriage

In this interview, Joan elaborates more on this year’s theme of International Women's Day — Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow, and why achieving gender equality means having a more sustainable future for all.

International Women’s Day every year unites all women’s rights activists around the world. Squares are full of marches, cities echo with calls for an equal world where women would enjoy a life free from gender-based violence and other forms of gender discrimination.

Marking this day, we here at Youth Time Magazine, speak to a distinguished women’s rights activist from Uganda, Kembabazi Joan, founder and director of the Gufasha Girl Child Foundation, a community-based organization empowering and equipping less privileged girls and young mothers with skills and knowledge to achieve their full potential.

In this interview, Joan elaborates more on this year’s theme of International Women’s Day — Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow, and why achieving gender equality means having a more sustainable future for all.

She also introduces our readers to her latest initiative #StandUpforHer, which she started in the memory of her best friend, Gufasha Maureen, who lost her life at the age of 13 after being forced into a child marriage. Through this strike, she is advocating for an end to child marriage through social media activism and community outreaches.

By the end of this conversation, she shares her idea of a society where we are all allies in building a more equal and fair world for women.

 

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Photo courtesy of Gufasha Girl Child Foundation

Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow

In the beginning, Joan recalls women and girls everywhere must and should have equal rights and be able to live free from any form of violence and discrimination.

“They [women and girls] should also be put at the center of decision/ policy-making processes and recovery if we are to prevent and respond to the greatest global challenges, build a resilient and sustainable future,” she adds.

Speaking more on this year’s theme, she goes on, “Empowering and involving girls and women in all aspects of economic and social development is crucial in attaining sustainability in a way that enables women and girls to decide and not only provides a platform for equal voices, choices, and opportunities to themselves but the future of the planet.”

She believes that this speeds up sustainability.

 

Joan Kembabazi II
Photo courtesy of Gufasha Girl Child Foundation

Stand Up for Her Initiative

Joan’s cause stems from personal suffering, and in this part of the interview, we will see how her power turned a tragedy into a great initiative benefiting the community.

Having lost her best friend Gufasha Maureen at the age of 13, after being forced into child marriage, Joan was left heartbroken and also understood the harsh reality- that unfortunately, many girls share the same fate as Gufasha.

To give us a better understanding of the issue, Joan further mentions that, according to UNICEF, globally every year, 12 million girls are married off before the age of 18.

Citing the same source, Joan adds we can translate this into 23 girls every minute and nearly one in two seconds.

According to UNICEF, approximately, 15-20% of dropouts for girls in secondary school are triggered by child marriage.

“I started up this strike in memory of my best friend, to raise [awareness] and be a voice of girls that do not have voices and are vulnerable to this vice, to call upon policy/decision-makers to include youth especially girls and women in the decision-making processes. The campaign calls upon world leaders, decision-makers, and law enforcers to implement and enforce laws and policies that protect the girl child, to call upon world leaders, governments, and all stakeholders to invest and fund girl child education.”

Just as importantly, the initiative calls on them to create an awareness of the importance of girls’ education and the effects of child marriage amongst communities.

“To empower girls to speak up and use their voices to stand up for their rights and bring about change,” she adds.

Joan shares they are already seeing the campaign’s impact, as they are seeing more and more girls standing up for their rights and saying NO to child marriage.

“More and more girls are seeking higher educational attainment and communities supporting the girl child in all aspects are some impacts of this campaign.”

This initiative stays close to its community as it is involving parents and young people, especially girls, to learn and talk about the negative consequences of child marriage, hence changing mindsets and amplifying their voices regarding ending child marriage.

 

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Photo courtesy of Gufasha Girl Child Foundation

Gender Equality Belongs to Everyone

Joan acknowledges that while the government and different stakeholders have already done some positive steps in the feminist movement in Uganda, there are still things needed to be done for implementing the laws and practices meant to protect women’s rights.

On this note, when asked how we can all do our part in strengthening girls and women’s rights starting with our own communities, she emphasizes first we must consider the fact that women’s rights are human rights and fighting for gender equality is everyone’s responsibility.

“Everyone has the power and can speak out against all forms of gender-based violence to protect girls and women. Everyone can support girls’ and women’s rights by supporting girls’ education to strengthen their futures.”

Joan firmly believes that each of us can encourage victims of violence in our communities to report acts of violence to relevant authorities and also hold perpetrators accountable.

As a start, you can join today with her meaningful campaign by tweeting #IStandUpForHer.

 

Photo courtesy of Gufasha Girl Child Foundation.


Last year, we spoke to Equality Now, an international human rights organization using the law to protect and promote the rights of women around the world since 1992.

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