I’ve watched this TED talk video on my commute to the office. Way to start my Monday, right?! While the talk is somewhat depressing it it also very inspiring.
Banda read a poem her friend made before starting her speech. It was very simple, it’s entitled I’ll Marry When I Want. In the poem, the girl said she’ll marry when she want, no one can force her to. She’ll marry when she want but not before she is well educated and all grown-up.
Listening to Memory Banda’s talk about child marriage almost made me cry, the fact that I am in a public transport is the only thing that stopped those tears. While I am enjoying my freedom, being able to chose the life that I want, making decisions for my future, there are places in the world where people are still trapped in their culture, even though said culture is nothing short of a crime against humanity. What prompt them to come up with this kind of tradition anyway? To condemn a girl to life that she has no control over, to a life of sexual and physical abuse, to a life of slavery. I know I have no right to judge these people, that it is their own culture and they are born into that lifestyle. I can only wonder why such tradition exists.
I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that these girls are forced to attend a sexual initiation camp, where they will have to learn how to “please” a man. The community hires a man to have sex with all of the girls attending the camp. I mean seriously? What kind of a messed up society are they to come up with this kind of tradition? A man paid to have sex with girls as young as a 9 year old? What kind of man gets sexually aroused by a 9 year old girl? I know that it is a part of their culture, that for them it is totally moral and acceptable.
After attending those camps, some of the girls ended up pregnant while some of them have contracted sexually transmitted diseases. It breaks my heart to know that there are place on this planet where a person is bound to a disgusting fate just because she happened to be a girl.
This kind of tradition only propagates poverty and ignorance. You don’t educate girls, you force them to get married and pregnant at the very young age and this vicious cycles continues, so does the poor standard of life.
Banda’s own sister got pregnant during a sexual initiation, married twice and now have 3 children at the age of 17. Banda escaped that tragic fate because she was living with an aunt who supported her resistance against early marriage and now a staunch advocate against child marriage.
When Banda was thirteen years old, she was told she’s a grown-up and supposed to go to the initiation camps but she refused. Women in her community told her that she is stupid and stubborn, that she does not respect the tradition of their society. But she is a tough girl, she knew where she is going, she knew what she wanted in life and clearly that it is not marriage and children at a very young age.
Everyday, ever since she refused to attend the camp, women would always tell that she’s all grown-up and would compare her to her sister who’s already a mother (seriously?! you want her to be jealous of her sister’s fate?!). And she said something that really touched my heart “and those are the music that girls hear everyday when they don’t do something that the community needs them to do”.
It hurts more when a woman does not support another woman’s effort to achieve gender equality. It’s harder when women are the first ones to tell another woman that fighting for her right is nothing short of stupidity. We, women, should stand together, to become a stronger force, to have a louder voice, so that no one can ignore us.
Despite what she has to go through and all the obstacles along her way, Banda didn’t falter, her determination didn’t waver. She asked herself, What can I do to change something that has been happening for a very long time? She encouraged girls to read and write, to remind themselves of what they have learned so far, to talk to each other about the troubles they are facing as young mothers.
They thought why not try to talk to their mothers and traditional leaders about the wrong things that being done to girls. Traditional leaders are so accustomed to the old ways, a hard thing to change but a good thing to try. And they tried and pushed so hard. Their hard work didn’t go waste, their community leaders stood up for them and said that no girl has to be married before they reach eighteen. That was just the beginning, they also went to fight for the rights of girls in other communities. They worked so hard to convince Parliament members to support the bill that will protect girls against child marriage
Earlier this year, the Parliament of Malawi adopted a law that, for the very first time, sets the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years old. This law now protects girl from child marriage and forced sexual initiation.
Banda also said that though 18 years old is the legal age for marriage for most countries, we still hear cries of women and girls everyday. “This is the high time where leaders honor commitment and keeping girls issues at heart. Women are extra-ordinary, we can do more. A law is not a law unless it was enforced.”
Banda reiterates that knowing that there is a law that will protect them, women will stand up and defend themselves. She call on male advocates to to jump in and support women issues.
Memory Banda inspires me. She reminded me of the freedom that I enjoyed so much and take for granted sometimes. Despite the harsh background and not so supportive community, she flourish and become a strong young woman. She fought not just for her right but for the rest of the girls in Malawi, what have I done so far? Her story made me realized how petty some of my issues are and that I can do so much to make this world a better place in my own little ways.