U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at the 2014 Girl Summit in London as Malala Yousafzai looks on (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
"All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation. Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the UK."
That was U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron today at the launch of the first-ever Girl Summit in London, a gathering hosted by the British government and UNICEF that's aimed at eradicating female genital mutilation and child and forced marriage within a generation.
It's a tall order.
According to figures from UNICEF, over 125 million women and girls around the world are affected by FGM, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recently noted that at the current rate of change, it'll be a full 60 years before that number is cut in half.
Defeating child and early marriage is no less daunting a task: UNICEF reports that about a third of girls in developing countries are married as children.
At the summit, U.K. Public Health Minister Jane Ellison announced a new FGM prevention program to improve data collection in order to understand the prevalence of the practice in the U.K. (already, all National Health Service hospitals are required to record whether a patient has undergone FGM).
Actress Freida Pinto, a Girls’ Rights ambassador for Plan International, is one of the speakers at the summit. In an article published in The Telegraph, she tells the story of a young girl in India she calls Super Girl.
Super Girl, who is around nine or 10 years old, watched her older sister marry against her will. But Super Girl's teachers knew child marriage was a social evil that plagued her village — they wanted something different for her. They taught Super Girl, and her class mates, how detrimental the practice was to a girl's well-being.
On the night of the wedding, her mother turned to Super Girl and said "you too". Super Girl, swiftly replied with the one word that girls like her are often forbidden from saying.
She said: "NO".
With the help of a local charity, Pinto writes, Super Girl's parents were convinced to call off the marriage.
On the UNICEF UK blog, there's a similar story about Meaza, a 14-year-old from Ethiopia who underwent FGM when she was 10.
“In my village there is one girl who is younger than I am who has not been cut because I discussed the issue with her parents,” Meaza said. “I told them how much the operation had hurt me, how it had traumatised me and made me not trust my own parents. They decided that they did not want this to happen to their daughter.”
To coincide with the summit, the UK Department for International Development produced this video asking the question, "What does freedom mean to you?"
The summit organizers have also set up an online pledge where you can declare your support to ending FGM and child marriage within a generation.