The President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina, has asked men who marry underage girls to “marry your own age mates and leave our girls alone”.
In Africa 125 million girls marry before they are 18 and one in five girls marry before the age of 18. Another one in three women and girls face gender-based violence.
According to him, child marriage was one of the serious gender-based violence being meted out to girls across the African continent.
Dr Adesina was speaking at a meeting of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) in New York.
The meeting was on the theme: “Renewing commitment towards enhancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa”.
The meeting, which was on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), brought together first ladies from across Africa, development partners and policy makers.
Dr Adesina said education was the antidote to child marriage and added that girls should be allowed to go to school and complete their education.
He commended African first ladies for ensuring that the value chain of girls and women empowerment came into fruition.
He was however, of the view that this value chain was being distracted by men through early marriage, gender-based violence and the lack of economic empowerment for women and girls.
He said the situation led to a vicious cycle of poverty and dependence for millions of women and girls on the continent.
The UNFPA Regional Director, East and Southern Africa, Dr Julitta Onabajo, also said education was needed to end crime against women and children for gender equality.
She called on countries to work at enacting domestic violence laws to ensure that perpetrators of crime against women and girls did not go unpunished.
Family Planning Needs
The Deputy Executive Director, UNFPA, Mr Dereje Wordofa, who spoke on “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the heart of sustainable development: 25 years of International Conference on Population Development”, pledged the UNFPA’s support for the work of African first ladies.
He said over 200 million women in Africa could not meet their family planning needs, a situation that was working against the progress of the ICPD agenda of meeting the sexual health of women and girls on the continent.
The UNFPA, he said, was working ambitiously to achieve the unmet needs of family planning to end preventable maternal deaths and to eliminate violence against women and girls, saying that was crucial not only to gender equality and women’s empowerment but in achieving sustainable development on the African continent.
The Head of Division Social Affairs, African Union, Dr Margaret Agama-Anyetei, commended OAFLAD for placing the advancement of the rights of women and girls at the forefront in its strategic plan.
The OAFLAD strategic vision, Dr Agama-Anyetei said, was in conformity with the vision of the AU to end all forms of violence against women and girls in Africa.
She said Africa’s human capital in social economic development could only be achieved when gender equality and women empowerment were fully achieved.
The Board chair of Girls Not Brides, Princess Mabel van Oranje, called on civil society to continuously hold governments accountable for child marriage and other crimes against women and girls.
She called on the first ladies to ensure that promises made by governments were fulfilled and also called on them to work in communities for real change to happen on the continent.
The Chief Executive Director of Plan International, Ms Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, commended the first ladies for their roles in ensuring that harmful cultural practices where eliminate from among the vulnerable in societies.
The President of OAFLAD, Mrs Antoinette Sassou Nguesso, called on her fellow first ladies to work at empowering women and girls to secure their future.
She also urged them to continue to spur the young girls on for leadership positions in the future.