The Co-Founder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ), Amal Clooney; Former First Lady of the United States and Founder of the Girls Opportunity Alliance, Michelle Obama; and global philanthropist Melinda French Gates visited Malawi and South Africa last week as part of their joint efforts to eliminate child marriage.
The visit came as they continue to follow up on the commitment they made last year to join forces to advance gender equality, combat violence against women and end child marriage.
As part of these efforts, CFJ’s Waging Justice for Women initiative has launched mobile legal aid clinics to increase access to justice for women and girls. In Malawi, CFJ has partnered with the Women Lawyers Association Malawi (WLA) to take pro bono legal clinics to some of the most remote regions of the country, to lead community outreach sessions on child marriage and provide free legal advice to women and girls.
During her time in Malawi, CFJ’s co-founder addressed and participated in the first clinic in the Mchinji region, one of 12 child marriage ‘hot spots’ across Malawi. 1,200 people – including 800 women – attended to learn about their legal rights, the dangers of child marriage, and how delaying marriage can help break cycles of poverty and abuse for girls. The clinic included one-on-one consultations with women, some of which resulted in free legal representation for women and girls in need.
“The Clooney Foundation for Justice is assisting us in carrying out mobile legal clinics throughout the country in remote areas. That is where we have clients who are in most need of our services,” said Chisomo Nyemba, president of WLA. “The prevalence of child marriages in the rural areas is really high [because of] a multitude of factors, starting with the social economic status of most people in the villages, the lack of awareness in the villages as well as people in the village just not knowing alternatives. Thanks to the Clooney Foundation’s support we are now able to reach these areas, and to focus on child marriage, for the first time.”
“It is a privilege to be working alongside so many inspirational Malawian women in the fight to make child marriage history” said Mrs. Clooney. “Child marriage persists because there are inadequate legal protections for millions of girls across Africa. And even in nations such as Malawi where child marriage is prohibited, girls cannot access justice. CFJ now supports legal aid clinics in 4 countries – Malawi, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia – and will continue to expand this model to increase access to justice for women and girls across the continent.”
During her visit to Malawi, Ms Clooney also met with the President of Malawi, Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera. After the meeting the President renewed his government’s commitment to ending the practice of child marriage in the country by 2030 and directed the Minister of Justice “to relook into all pieces of legislation that do not align with the constitutional age of marriage” and ensure that Malawi’s policies comply with the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage. He also “asked the Minister of Finance to review the national budget and allocate adequate resources to” achieving this goal over the next seven years.
Later, in Cape Town, Ms Clooney met with victims of sexual violence and with legal partners including the Women’s Legal Centre. She also participated in a panel discussion at the Centre for the Book about women’s rights and child marriage with Ms. Graça Michel, Mrs. Michelle Obama and Ms. Melinda French Gates.
A global phenomenon, approximately 640 million girls and women alive today were married as children, according to UNICEF. Unless things change, UNICEF predicts it will take another 300 years until child marriage is eliminated. Earlier this year, CFJ, the Gates Foundation, and the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance, along with Girls Not Brides, Girls First Fund, and VOW for Girls, joined forces to champion initiatives that will help end child marriage by working with and supporting girl and community-led groups, striving to eliminate barriers for girls worldwide.
For photos from the visit to Malawi and South Africa, click here.
To learn more about the work of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s Waging Justice for Women initiative, please visit our website.
Media contact: [email protected]