I am me ~ A Poem

Black Girl Anxious

The sweat between my palms

Sweat under my arms

And the constant urge to go to the toilet.

Speak louder they say

You’re African and Africans are not shy

Speak with confidence they say

You were great!

I wish I could speak like you they say

You have no reason to be nervous

But I just can’t help it.

Constantly conscious of my self-image

Always in a cycle of self-doubt

Filled with psychological wounds that are self-inflicted

Timer ready to self-destruct

But I know that my heart is pumped with self-love

So why do I spend time on self-hate?

Is it because of pressures of never being good enough?

The unachievable standards society has set for girls like me?

Scared of letting people down

Or it is all in my head?

I am amazing

I am me

anxiety is a part of me

But I will not let it define me.


Words By Kuki.

Artwork by @KirzArt

Black Labour, White Markets and Brown Wallets: The Shea Moisture Scandal


In Burkina Faso, Shea Butter is known as ‘Women’s Gold’. In the diaspora it’s better known as hair crack. Made from fat extracted from the fruit of the African Shea tree, shea butter has been used for centuries to treat and protect the many varieties of black women’s hair (and skin). So it’s not surprising that when Richelliu Dennis branded his Sierra Leoneon grandmother’s concoction and sold it on the streets of Harlem in the early 90s, ‘Shea Mositure’ soon became a house and hair necessity. Black women, understandably, were the brands’ greatest consumers and its most loyal supporters. From sharing the product in homes and salons, to endorsing, advocating and freely publicising it in the Youtube era of beauty vloggers, Shea Moisture became a model for successful black business, thriving in an industry dominated by products for white and Caucasian styled hair.

Enter April 25th 2017. Shea Moisture unveil a new campaign entitled ‘Hair Hate’, positioning themselves as the brand to help women fall back in love with their hair. Considering Natural Hair is trending, it was an apt advertising move. Yet the women they were appealing to were not their loyal 4c textured or otherwise supporters but white women, whose hair and beauty have always, and uncritically too, been the standard of beauty. White women whose hair type is catered for in every outlet and advert imaginable. At least that’s how Black Twitter saw it. The uproar across social media prompted social commentators, home vloggers and writers to clap down on the business, leading to Shea Moisture issuing a formal apology and pulling the advert within hours.

As a leading brand for black business, Shea Moisture relies on its core funders, black women, our money and by extension our labour, to exist. Too often, when something becomes a successful commodity, the labour and love of minority people is capitalised on, consumed, and abused leaving minorities, in this case black women, left to eat dust while their own things are appropriated with no mention of their existence. While I agree the advert wasn’t just tasteless but insensitive, this trend of appropriation and the de-centering of black women isn’t new. In fact it is a well practiced activity that will continue unless the following things are addressed:

  1. Black business exists within white markets. 


We cannot deny that, through various tactics, the current global capitalist system continues, if not thrives, on the oppression and exploitation of black and brown bodies. However for black businesses or organisations to have credibility (read: get funding), they have to play the system, and that means appealing to (and incorporating) white people, both at a consumer level and leadership level. Why? Because that’s where the money is, and therefore in many ways the skills, visibility, employability and, you guessed it, money. It’s no wonder then that Shea Moisture’s VP of Marketing and much of their staff are white. Whether we like it or not, the racial dynamics of the capitalist system means that white people, on the whole,  have the greatest purchasing power because they have the greatest amount of capital . For any business to expand it has to appeal to the demographic that has money, so it makes strategic sense for Shea Moisture to appeal to an untapped clientele.

2.  Black people drive culture – so why don’t we dictate who has visibility?


Whether it’s the latest dance craze, meme, super star or shutting down the adverts of international corporations (looking at you Pepsi), black people – from the continent through to the diaspora and beyond – drive, innovate and dictate global culture. It’s what makes the appropriation of our work so painful, frustrating and lucrative. But here’s the thing –  Shea Moisture released two adverts. That’s right. 2.

The first advert displayed a glorious array of black women, both in skin tones, hair textures backgrounds and beauties. The second advert targeted their new audience – white women. Now, I think a smarter move would have been for Shea Moisture to integrate the two adverts –e.g. with a ratio of 3:1  or 2:2 of women of colour to white women. In this way they could have shown the universality of their product without erasing black women. Not only would this have been less tone deaf, but it might have opened the door for other labels like Garnier and L’Oreal etc. to start appealing to black audiences and diversifying their products while amplifying our presence. We won’t know, but what we do know is that Black twitter made an advert about white women using Shea Butter go viral. We did that. We could have made the other advert go viral #blackgirlmagic, because let’s be honest, how many white women even saw or cared about the advert till it started trending? I see the power in calling it out (and getting it canceled), it shows that consumers can still hold markets accountable, but this leads me to my final point

3. Brown Wallets always want a bargain

wendyHours after the scandal had whipped up a frenzy, Shea Moisture not only pulled the advert, they did a 50% sale on all products. HALF-PRICE on EVERYTHING (while supplies last). Earlier in the day, friends and strangers up and down my time line where planning to boycott and shutdown Shea Moisture, but once that sale was released…no comment. Actually no, that is a huge comment. Since the civil rights era and earlier, black people have shown their ability to shut things down and make those in charge sit up and sometimes even stand down. From boycotting buses to voting in a black president, our voices are loud and strong. Except when it comes to our wallets. Considering the capitalist system is racist, it can often feel like as black people with less purchasing power, we can’t afford to jeopardise our finances for our ethics. But that’s how African Americans won the vote isn’t it? If we’re serious about the private sector not cashcropping our cain-rows, then we need to not buckle at the loose change that falls our way. I wouldn’t be surprised if the money Shea Mositure lost in pulling the advert will be made back in the next 48hrs while consolidating their supporter base all over again by offering weak platitudes for forgiveness. Moral of the story – Bargain Hunting doesn’t lead to social change.

It is frustrating that FUBU (for us by us) -style brands, role-models and movements which historically and presently gave/give us visibility by creating spaces where we feel safe, valued and seen, seem to sell out (or buy-in) for financial gain. I doubt Shea Moisutre had a malign intention in the advert and in a way, is it wrong of them to diversify their consumer base? From a strategic sense, perhaps the only way we can reverse the dynamics of capitalism is to either dismantle the system, or run it, and the latter requires us having that cheddar. Yet if the private sector, black businesses included, is playing a game we don’t like, then we – the conscious, conscientious and financially capable black community- need to reflect, consolidate and execute our power effectively to change the game. We may be marginalised and disempowered via the traditional institutions and corridors of power, but as a social community we shake things up in a drastic way. So let’s be vigilant. We don’t need twitter warriors creating a storm about us being invisible, while in the process increasing the visibility of those that are already in the spotlight. If we can shut things down, then lets also send things up, and make, in this case, our presence go viral. There’s also the question of grace. Sometimes we get things wrong, sometimes in a minor way, sometimes in a HUGE way. Sometimes we  need to correct, even discipline and forgive (that hair crack is essential after all). BUT, if we the consumers truly want to hold the private sector to account in a way that affects them, then we need to be bold enough to do that with our words and our wallets (there are plenty of brilliant black hair products out there who need the investment!). If black business exists in white markets, then lets make sure our brown wallets are lined with our ethics, and our money does the talking, not just the spending.

Words by Justina Kehinde

Dark and Lovely or Light and Right?



“Is this your ugly dark skinned friend?”


Black women come in all shapes, sizes and shades. Yet for centuries the lie that ‘light is right’ has shaped how, as black people, we relate to our complexion and how non-black people judge and treat us based on our complexion. While society is far from being post-racial, as ‘woke’ millennials we know that our melanin content in no-way reflects our value, worth, potential or beauty. We’ve done the #BlackGirlMagic revolution, our melanin is very much on fleek, yes #darkgirls do rock and skin bleaching? That’s been banished to our mother’s generation – today we’re proud to be #UnfairandLovely. Right? ….right?


Walking through up-town Nairobi last week I came across this poster. At first glance everything is on point. The model, her head thrown back in careless joy, teeth bared is absolutely #slaying. Her #glowedup skin is definitely giving Lupita, Viola and Alec Wec all a run for their money. Even the little baby boy in her arms is bringing me all the feels. Yaas #AfricaRising with the hand clap emoticon says it all. At least that’s what I thought, until I took a closer look at the caption below. ‘Two good to be true’. The marketing strategy seems innocent, but then I look back at the image and something insidious appears. A dark skinned woman, holding a light skinned baby, with the implicit double entendre – too good to be true. It’s too good to be true, she, a dark skinned woman, was able to have a light-skinned baby. She stepped up her game. She’s done better.

The devil’s advocate will say ‘you’re reading too much into this’, but the devil is always in the detail. Despite our advances in dismantling white supremacy and the racial hierarchies which have oppressed black people across the world, from the transatlantic slave trade to the Indian caste system, the treatment of Australian aborigines to the indigenous people of South America and East Asia, we cannot deny that the lie ‘light is right’ has been fed and nurtured for centuries and still penetrates our societies and cultures today.

The idea that we accrue more value – that we get better the closer we get to white is a pernicious and dangerous lie. Without the caption the picture shows the glorious variety of black people. With the caption it turns that variety into a hierarchy.

Throughout history, language has been used to both demonise and value people. In regards to racism, where the colour white is associated with purity, fairness, goodness etc. those positive attributes have been accorded, indiscriminately, to white-skinned people. Because racism and racial hierarchies require difference, the antithesis to these values were given to darker skinned people, associating them with evil, ugliness, corruption etc.

Part of challenging racism, is acknowledging that these racist ideas are not true and therefore need to be challenged. Being dark-skinned doesn’t make you ugly or less worthy. Being light-skinned doesn’t make us better or worse. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then we need to fundamentally change the eyes with which society looks at its people. That starts with dismantling the lie that our value is only skin deep.

So keep your melanin on fleek, stay unfair and lovely, be cool and caramel or charming and chocolate, embrace your shade no matter its hue. As black women – both magical and real – our pigment, whatever it’s shade, is great, just as it is.

Words by Justina Kehinde

Let us know your thoughts on shadism and beauty #TuWezesheTalks

Tanzania Stands Up to Child Marriage

On 9th February Tanzania’s parliamentarians took a vow to put an end to child marriage. The current Law on Marriage in Tanzania lets girls marry from as young as 14, but in the summer of 2016 the High Court of Tanzania found it to be unconstitutional. Although the law has yet to be changed, as one MP tweeted: “If we work together we can change the Law of Marriage Act in a short time”.


As the African proverb states – it takes a village to raise a child, and in this case it might just take a government of committed MPs to change a society.

During the conference MPs suggested incorporating the dangers of child marriage into the national education curriculum as part of an attempt to provide effective Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Relationships Education (SRHR and SRE).

We know that when young women and girls know their rights they are more able to claim them. MPs also highlighted the relationship between poverty and patriarchy in tackling the practice, two major drivers of Child Marriage.

We’re encouraged to see Tanzania’s MPs taking a stand for women and girls rights. The African Union have also begun training parliamentarians on how to stand up and speak out against child marriage, so we know change is coming. We look forward to seeing how these conversations move into action and the transformation of Tanzanian women and girls lives. #EndChildMarriage.

For more information on this story click here




Sheroes – Vivian Kityo: Protecting Child Mothers

“At 10 years old her stomach swells with the growth of new life. Children hiding within the fragile frames of children, mothers being made out of infants.”


In July 2013 The Ugandan National Bureau of Statistics alleged that, out of the 1.2million pregnancies recorded in Uganda each year, 25% are from girls under the age of 18. These pregnancies, around 300,000 in total, are almost all unwanted resulting in abortions or unintended births. Early marriage, sexual violence, early initiation into sexual activity and a lack of information are some of the greatest drivers behind this epidemic.

Vivian Kityo is putting a stop to all that.

Born and raised in Kampala, Vivian trained as a nurse before going on to receive a degree in Health Administration. Throughout her many years on Uganda’s maternity wards, Vivian was overwhelmed by the steady stream of young  girls who came to her with unwanted pregnancies. Many had been raped or violated, others where child brides , none of them were old enough to be mothers. Frustrated by the lack of support and the seeming increase in the rates of unwanted pregnancies, in 2005 Vivian founded Wakisa Ministries, a crisis pregnancy centre aimed at  providing the essential support services girls needed but rarely had access to.

Based in Bakuli, a suburb about 5km west of Kampala’s city-entre, Wakisa Ministries is Uganda’s only teenage and child pregnancy crisis centre. Currently supporting 22 girls the youngest of which is 10, the centre offers essential ante-natal care as well as sex, relationships and health rights education. Most importantly, the centre teaches these girls how to care for their children including breast-feeding and infant care. wakisa-ministries

Akina Mama Wa Afrika (AMwA) our partners in Uganda, have partnered with the centre to research the prevalence of sexual and gender based violence in relation to unwanted pregnancies. Through their work AMwA discovered that 43% of young mothers had been ‘unwilling’ to have sexual intercourse, confirming the fact that sexual and gender based violence are root causes for unwanted pregnancies in Uganda. As young mothers, many girls are unable to complete their schooling, leaving them with fewer economic opportunities and therefore vulnerable to economic and sexual exploitation. This not only robs the country of a stronger economic workforce, but it also slows down much needed social, political and economic development. The stigma of pre-marital sex can, especially where pregnancy is concerned, leave girls isolated from their families and communities. Such a stigma, combined with the responsibilities of caring for another life at a young age, and the experiences of sexual violence many of the girls have endured can leave young mothers with serious psychological and emotional trauma making Wakisa Minstries such a necessary service.

As part of her vision to see these girls not only survive but thrive, Vivian and Wakisa Ministries provide recipients with a range of business skills from candle making, to tailoring, jewellery making to knitting and  urban agriculture. By 2020 Vivian hopes to enrol her girls in vocational training schools and to create a comprehensive policy that will end child marriage in Uganda permanently. As the recipient of the New Vision Women Achiever Award and featured as one of Africa’s most influential women in business and government, Vivian Kityo is a woman to be reckoned with and a true Sheroe. We wish her the best as she keeps pursuing the good fight!

Words by Irene Kagoya and @Justina_Kehinde

(@amwa_ug and @FORWARDUK)


For more information on Wakisa Ministries click here

For more information on Akina Mama wa Afrika click here


Urgent Appeal: Save Acton Clinic!


By March 2017, Acton Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) community clinic could have their funding stopped! For over 10 years the clinic has provided support, counselling and de-infibulation (a form of reconstructive surgery) to women and girls from across the country, including as far as Northern Ireland and Bristol who have been affected by FGM.

Acton Clinic is the only clinic in the UK for which

  • You don’t need a GP’s referral
  • You don’t need to be pregnant to receive the service

For the past decade it has

  • Provided counselling and referred women on for specialist treatment if they can’t provide it at the clinic
  • Offers de-infibulation – this means it can ‘open up’ women who have undergone the most severe form of FGM – type 3. This process restores natural urination and menstruation as well as reducing complications in birth.
  • The clinic staff have trained over 100 other professionals to carry out de-infibulations.
  • The clinic is staffed by trained Midwives and health advocates who are dedicated, experienced and understand the sensitivities around FGM. They provide a safe and culturally appropriate service for vulnerable women – women for whom this clinic is often the first and sometimes only time they ever speak about FGM.
  • In 2011 the clinic won the Guardian Public Service Award for Diversity and Equality
  • In 2016 the clinic was visited by MP Jane Ellison, former Public Health Minister, as it was an ‘example of a gold standard, holistic, FGM service that had been the blueprint for other such services across the UK’.

The clinic was founded by Julia Albert in 2007 after she attended training by TuWezeshe Dada’s lead partner organisation, FORWARD who went on to provide technical support and advice for the new clinic.

If Acton Clinic were to close it would be a travesty not only for women and girls affected by FGM, but for all of us who are fighting for gender inequality and the rights and freedoms of women in girls. We cannot let this happen. Ealing Council have not explained why funding is being re-directed from this highly valuable and award winning clinic or the logic of withdrawing services available to women in order to raise greater awareness of services available to women. With the UK government proclaiming their commitment to ending FGM in the UK and to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) the closure of this clinic must be seen – and must be called out – as a grievous step backwards that will leave hundreds of vulnerable women and girls without the experienced and culturally appropriate services that they need and deserve.

What we need you to do:

  • Flood their Inboxes! Email to explain why the Acton FGM Community Clinic is so important. You can copy and send this draft email, or write one of your own and send it to these people to make your call to #SaveActonClinic heard
  • Councillor Julian Bell, Ealing Council Leader: bell@ealing.gov.uk
  • Councillor Ranjit Dheer, Ealing Council Deputy Leader and responsible for Community Services, Equality and Diversity: dheer@ealing.gov.uk
  • Mohini Parmar, Chair of Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group: mohini.parmar@nhs.net

Sign the petition  and make sure they know about it!

Tweet the link to @EalingCouncil and @juliangbell with the hashtag #SaveActonClinic to let them know what it means to you!

Turn up!

FORWARD and Acton clinic are holding an assembly on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to End FGM – Monday the 6th February – to call for Ealing to keep the Acton FGM Community Clinic open. Sisters, brothers and young people are invited to join us in solidarity with the clinic! Bring your banners and your voices. Ealing Town Hall, New Broadway, London W5 2BY – 12pm – Monday 6 February 2017



3 – Sisters Act: Sexual Harassment & Revenge Porn


It’s just a bit of flirting.

She was asking for it.

I didn’t know how to say no.

No-one believed me – they said I was making it up, being too sensitive.

He didn’t really hurt her.

It’s  not a big deal, it’s just a bit of fun.

Just a bit of fun.

Sexual harassment is not just a bit of fun. In fact it is one of the most pervasive forms of gender based violence. It can occur in schools, in workplaces, in public spaces and in the home. Although both men and women are affected by sexual harassment, women are disproportionately the victims.

What does sexual harassment look like and why does it happen?

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:

  • violates your dignity
  • makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
  • creates a hostile or offensive environment[1]

You don’t need to have previously objected to someone’s behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.

Sexual harassment can include:

  • sexual comments or jokes
  • physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching, groping, brushing, invading your personal space and various other forms of sexual assault
  • displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
  • talking about or asking questions of a sexual nature
  • sending emails with a sexual content

Colleagues, classmates, members of the public, members of your family or friendship group and people in positions of authority can all sexually harass or be victims of sexual harassment.

There is a clear distinction between sexual harassment and flirting. This is a good way to distinguish:

Sexual Harassment Flirting
Feels Bad Feels Good
One Sided Reciprocal
Feels Unattractive Feels Attractive
Degrading Compliment
Feels Powerless Feels in Control
Power-based Equality
Negative Unwanted Touching Positive Wanted Touching
Illegal Legal
Invading Open
Demeaning Flattering
Feels Sad/Angry Feels Happy
Negative Self-Esteem Positive Self-Esteem


Sexual Harassment and ‘Rape Culture’:

Like most forms of gender based violence sexual harassment happens because of cultures which facilitate or excuse sexually violent behaviour. During the 1970s American feminists used the term ‘rape culture’ to define societies which blame victims of sexual violence while excusing or even praising acts of sexual aggression. According to feminist Emilie Buchwald:

In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable. However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that [we] can change. [2]

Sexual Harassment, Cyber Bullying and Revenge Porn:

As well as the above examples, sexual harassment can also take place through social media and chatrooms. Revenge Porn along with cyber bullying are two emerging forms of gender based violence.

Revenge porn is the sexually explicit portrayal of one or more people distributed without their consent via any medium. Revenge porn is a form of psychological, sexual and emotional abuse as well as domestic violence.

Perpetrator: The person who shares the image publicly with the intent of causing the victim distress or harm. They may do this out of revenge after a break up or as a way to control their victims (domestic abuse). Sometimes it’s done as a mode of financial extortion.

Trolls: Other online users who share the image “for kicks” or to further humiliate the victim. There are lots of websites set up to make money from people uploading or sharing images.

The victim may have consented to having the image taken, but not for it to be shared. Victims are often blamed for letting the images be taken in the first place. This can cause further  further psychological distress to their feelings of being violated and ashamed.

Revenge Porn is illegal in a number of countries including the UK, but prosecution is slow and difficult.  If you have been abused via revenge porn or any other form of sexual abuse or harassment here are some steps you could follow[3]:

  1. If it is safe, try confronting the perpetrator,
  2. Record all instances of the harassment or the abuse (e.g. photocopy images, save emails/texts, write down any instances of harassment/abuse with the date, location, frequency of the encounters etc.)
  3. Tell other people (family, friends, colleagues)
  4. If it occurs in a work or school environment, obtain copies of your work records (including performance evaluations) and keep these copies at home

Sexual abuse, harassment or violence of any kind is NEVER the victims fault. It is awful when people we trust betray us and when people don’t respect us. However knowing your rights is the key to protecting yourself. Never be afraid to OWN your personal space and to be clear to others what you appreciate and what you don’t. You have a right to your body.

[1] https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/discrimination/what-are-the-different-types-of-discrimination/sexual-harassment/

[2] http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/

[3] https://feminist.org/911/harasswhatdo.html


SHEROES – Winny Obure: Community Activist



A feminist and human rights activist, Winnie Obure is a member of the Young Women’s Leadership Institute (YWLI), our partners in Kenya.  As part of her commitment to community mobilisation, during the 16 Days of Activism Winnie shared her experiences of community advocacy  with victims of sexual violence in Kiambui.

In late November 2016, Winnie Obure marched on Shauri Moyo police station to protest the rape of a 15 year old girl by local police officer, Njogu. Although the rape had been reported by the girl’s father, the station refused to record it to protect their colleague. Backed by other community activists, Winnie demanded the incident be recorded in the station’s Occurrence Book (OB). For their demands the women were arrested. Phones confiscated and prohibited from seeing visitors, they spent the night in jail.

Early the next morning they were charged in court for ‘creating a disturbance at a police station’ . However, their names and files were missing from the court registry and records. To date, each time they appear in court they are told their ‘files are missing’.

In her attempts to secure justice for the girl, Winnie discovered that the victim’s aunt had received 5,000 shillings (50USD) from the police for her silence. Negotiation and even collusion with abusers is an underlying form and cause of gender based violence which prevents justice being enacted and undermines the worth and esteem of the victim. In poor communities where the cost of legal action is too expensive financial  pay-offs can be a lucrative, and seemingly beneficial, alternative. 16-days-rape-ywli-1

Yet despite these challenges, Winnie did not give up on the case. Taking her protest to social media with the hashtag #ArrestNjogu the case caught the attention of hundreds. With mounting pressure the officer was finally arrested. The case is currently ongoing.

Standing up against violence in the community is not an easy task. As a young human rights defender Winnie has regularly found herself in precarious positions even to the point of having to move house as a result of intimidation and threats. However she is adamant that real change occurs when we involve many people. Alone and isolated activists can be left vulnerable, but together we rise.

At the end of 2016 Winnie Obure was one of five recipients of the Integrity Champions Award presented by the Society for International Development. She is a true hero – we salute and stand with her.


Words by Felister Gitonga, (@ywli_info)

Edited by @Justina_Kehinde (@FORWARDUK)




As kids we play at make-believe. At what if. It’s part of how we stimulate our imagination and begin to forge our identity. Whether it’s pretending to be our parents, teachers or older siblings, we absorb and imitate so much of adult life. We pretend to ‘to go to market’ and buy food, or to look after our make-believe children, even to get married? It’s fun at the time, but we know its play, it’s made up. Right?

Wrong. While some children have the luxury of pretending to walk down the aisle, don a veil or cook for their “spouse”, for other children it’s their reality.

Over 700million women alive today were married as children and almost 1/3rd (250million) were married before the age of 15. 250 million married before the age of 15. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of the UK, France, Germany and Spain – combined!

So why are children being married and how is this a form of gender based violence?


According to the UN, child marriage is the formal or informal union of two individuals where one or both are under the age of 18. Although child marriage affects boys too, girls are disproportionately married off making it a form of gender based violence. As a child you cannot give legal consent therefore such marriages are forced and coercive.

Why does child marriage happen?

  1. What’s Love got to do with it?child-not-bride

Romantic love, in many cultures and traditions, has little, if anything, to do with marriage. Throughout the centuries marriage has been a way of strategically joining families and communities. This could be to stop wars, to increase wealth, for political gain/protection, social status or other reasons. Marriage in this sense is regarded as a contract between families, not individuals. As children cannot give consent, it leaves the power to marry or not marry in the hands of their parents and families and increases the possibility of exploitation.

2. Poverty vs. Provision

Over half of all girls from the poorest families in the developing world are married as children. For poor families marrying off daughters means one less mouth to feed. In some cases it is a way to manage debt, or, where a dowry or bride-price is received, financially lucrative. Groom’s families often pay less if the bride is young giving them a financial incentive for child marriages.

3. Sexuality and Safety

In many patriarchal communities female sexuality and sexual conduct are intrinsically linked to family honour and are therefore things to be controlled. Considering the strategic uses of marriage, unwanted pregnancies or sexual misconduct are seen to bring families into disrepute.

16-days-marriage-ywli-1For some cultures girls become women after their first menstruation. Certainly this isn’t the best measure of adulthood, as girls can start their periods from as young as nine, but it does mean these girls are in an in-between phase: no longer children but not yet wives, leaving them vulnerable to sexual advances and other abuse. Marriage gives girls a new, “safer” status as a wife or mother, while also controlling their sexual conduct.

In communities where female genital mutilation is practiced, once a girl is cut she is eligible for marriage.

Child marriage might also occur during times of conflict or natural/humanitarian crises. Marriage can be seen as a way to cope with violence and poverty and even give the possibility of security or safety for the family.

The Impact of Child marriage:

Child brides very soon become child mothers. Child marriage encourages premature and continuous child bearing in turn preventing girls from gaining an education or from working outside the domestic sphere, while privileging boys’ education and work opportunities. It also keeps girls dependent on their husbands/husband’s family removing their independence and autonomy. Child mothers are likely to suffer severe health complications such as obstetric fistula and maternal mortality because they are often physically under-developed and therefore not ready for sexual intercourse or child birth. Over 70,000 girls between 15-18 die in child birth every year, while girls who give birth under the age of 18 are 60% more likely to lose their baby or have a still birth compared to those over 19. According to UNICEF even if the child survives they are likely to suffer from a low birth weight and late cognitive and physical development. The levels of domestic violence child brides face is drastic compared to women over 18, as children have less negotiating power or strength compared to adults. Child brides are often separated from their communities and friends, which can have huge psychological effects in turn threatening their mental and emotional wellbeing.

Moving Forwards:

Although data shows that the prevalence of child marriage is decreasing, it isn’t decreasing fast enough. Child marriage is a form of child abuse as well as gender based violence. Working with communities to change cultural attitudes is essential. If 50% of a countries population isn’t able to work, that country will never fully develop. Girl’s education and financial empowerment means better local, national and international development. It’s also important to challenge how we view female sexuality and challenge communities that privilege male sexuality above women’s. Child Marriage is decreasing but with sustained work we can make it disappear.


Information for this article was sourced from UNICEF and Girl’s Not Brides.


If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed please contact  one our partners by clicking on their link:

FORWARD (UK, Europe and Africa incl. Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania)

YWLI (Kenya)

AMwA (Uganda)

SSAP (Somaliland)



SHEROES – Edna Adan: Mother of Somaliland


‘Hooyoda Somaliland’ or ‘the mother of Somaliland’, Dr. Edna Adan Ismail’s lifelong fight for women and girls rights and maternal health has put her on the map as one of the most influential female campaigners on the African continent. Her work as a campaigner, a midwife and a politician has transformed the global women’s rights agenda, especially where it concerns African women and girls, in the process inspiring and empowering millions.

When looking back at Edna’s life, it is pretty difficult to ignore that she has ‘first’ plastered all over her name. From becoming the FIRST Somali trained midwife in the UK in the 1950s to the FIRST Somali female to drive a car. She was Somaliland’s first, First lady, and went on to become the FIRST Somali female to publicly to speak out against FGM. She’s also the FIRST female founder and director of a maternity hospital in Somaliland – in short, she has always been a pioneer. It’s with no doubt then, that she is our  FIRST featured Sheroe!

Raised in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, in 1954 Edna was awarded a scholarship to study nursing, midwifery and hospital management in Borough Polytechnic, now London South Bank University. After completing seven years of service, Edna returned to Somaliland as the country’s first and only qualified nurse-midwife.

In 1965, Edna moved once again, this time to Libya to work for the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the Regional Technical Officer for Mother and Child Health. In her fight to safeguard the rights of women and children, Edna became particularly vocal against FGM, and its wide spread prevalence across the African continent. She returned to her home country when her husband at the time, the late Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal became Prime Minister of Somali Republic and later the first President of Somaliland. Edna held many prestigious political posts during her political career including Director at the ministery of health (1977-1979), minister of social affairs and family welfare and foreign minister, which she held  until 2006. As the only female to hold prominent posts in government and the only voice for women and girls, Edna was a force to be reckoned with, treasured by young women and an inspiration to generations.

7996492986_69afcefd8c_bBy 1991 the Somaliland that Edna knew and loved had just come through a crippling civil war to claim its independence. However, following the devastation,  the country’s health system was completely destroyed and Somaliland had the highest rates of infant mortality worldwide. Alongside infant mortality, FGM continued to be practiced throughout the country. Type III, the most invasive form (read more here), is still widely practiced across Somaliland leaving many mothers vulnerable to maternal mortality due to health complications during childbirth.

Since qualifying as a nurse-midwife, Edna’s lifelong dream has been to train specialised midwifes with the necessary skills to appropriately deliver the children of women who have undergone FGM, as well as to continue the fight against the practice. In 2002 Edna successfully opened the first maternity hospital in Hargeisa. Having sold all her possessions (including her cherished Mercedes!) and using her savings to acquire the government land to build the hospital from scratch, by 2002 the Edna Adan Hospital opened with an  operating theater, pharmacy, laboratory and library. Edna also embarked on the process of training 1000 Somaliland women to become qualified midwives and by 2012, opened the Edna Adan University to further the training of nurses, midwifes, laboratory technicians, pharmacologists and public health officers.


Now at 79 years old, Edna continues to be a voice for the voiceless women and girls subjected to gender based violence throughout the world. Through her tireless campaigning, she has brought their stories to the ears of various notable figures including Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, and has worked to make FGM a global humanitarian issue recognised by the UN as a form of child abuse, gender based violence and a  denial of women and girls human rights. For her work Edna’s name was added University of Toledo’s Medical Mission Hall of Fame and she was made an honorary Fellow of both Cardiff University, Clark University and the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

It is not a surprise Edna is called the mother of Somaliland, or even, as the Huffington Post described her, the Muslim Mother Theresea. We had the honour of meeting her at the 2016 African Women’s Diaspora Forum in London where she continued to empower and inspire women to fight the good fight of women and girls’ rights.

May her work continue and may her light never dim.

Words by Rahma Abdilahi (@ssap)


For more information about the Edna Adan Hospital click here