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World Human Rights Day: Addressing FGM and Child Marriage for a Sustainable Future 

Cody Peluso Dec 07, 2023

Every year on December 10th, the world commemorates World Human Rights Day, a poignant reminder of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted in 1948. This landmark document, forged from the ashes of a World War, enshrined fundamental rights for all, regardless of race, religion, gender, or nationality. Yet, 75 years later, the shadows of injustice linger, particularly for women and girls.  

To truly honor the UDHR, we must address two critical issues – female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage – that rob millions of their fundamental rights and hinder our path to a sustainable future. 

FGM: A Brutal Violation of Bodily Autonomy and Human Dignity 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the partial or complete removal of female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, is a horrific practice with lasting physical and psychological consequences. It violates the right to health, bodily integrity, and freedom from torture and cruel treatment. An estimated 200 million girls and women globally live with the consequences of FGM, facing chronic pain, sexual dysfunction, and childbirth complications. 

Eradicating FGM is not just a matter of individual rights; it’s a prerequisite for sustainable development. Studies show girls who undergo FGM are more likely to drop out of school, limiting their economic opportunities and perpetuating poverty cycles. The health complications associated with FGM strain healthcare systems, further hindering development. 

Population Media Center (PMC) tackles the deeply ingrained issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) with a unique weapon: storytelling. We weave powerful narratives, like radio dramas and telenovelas, that resonate with local communities across the globe. These stories portray the devastating consequences of FGM, not through lectures, but through the eyes of relatable characters facing similar pressures.  

PMC doesn’t just tell stories; we spark conversations. We train community leaders to use these narratives as springboards for open discussions, challenging harmful norms and empowering individuals to question age-old traditions. We partner with local influencers, religious leaders, and healthcare providers, ensuring their message reaches the hearts and minds of those who matter most. 

Child Marriage: Stealing Childhood and Jeopardizing Lives 

Child marriage, defined as any formal or informal union before the age of 18, is another human rights violation deeply rooted in gender inequality. It robs girls of their education, healthcare, and personal agency. They are forced to bear children before their bodies are ready, leading to higher rates of maternal and child mortality. Child brides are also more vulnerable to domestic violence, exploitation, and psychological trauma. The ripple effects of child marriage extend far beyond individual lives. It perpetuates poverty, hinders economic development, and fuels population growth, straining resources and jeopardizing our planet’s future. 

Population Media Center (PMC) isn’t just another organization whispering about child marriage in dusty pamphlets. We’re a global disruptor, wielding the power of popular entertainment to ignite revolutions in hearts and minds. Imagine telenovelas where child brides escape abusive marriages, radio dramas where communities debate the dangers of early unions, and books filled with empowered girls refusing to be sold off as child brides. That’s PMC in action. 

We don’t preach – we entertain. Our stories, meticulously crafted for local contexts, resonate deeply. Villagers gather around crackling radios, captivated by characters grappling with the very issues they face. Laughter mingles with tears as the consequences of child marriage unfold, sparking conversations that shatter taboos and challenge deeply held beliefs. 

But PMC doesn’t stop there. We train local leaders to leverage these narratives, turning them into catalysts for change. Community dialogues erupt, fueled by shared emotions and newfound awareness. Religious leaders reinterpret scriptures, parents re-evaluate traditions, and girls, emboldened, demand their right to education and agency. 

PMC isn’t just raising awareness; we’re igniting revolutions – in the mind. We’re proving that entertainment when wielded with purpose, can dismantle age-old harmful practices, one captivating story at a time. 

The UDHR: A Living Document, Not a Museum Relic 

The UDHR was not a static document meant to gather dust on a shelf. It was a living call to action, a promise to strive for a world where every human being enjoys their inherent dignity and equal rights. It holds the key to unlocking sustainable population dynamics. By upholding and enhancing, particularly, the rights of women and girls, we can address the root causes of unsustainable population growth and create a future where human well-being thrives in harmony with the planet. 

The UDHR empowers women to make informed choices about their bodies and families. Access to education, healthcare, and reproductive health services allows women to delay marriage, pursue careers, and determine the number and spacing of their children. This shift in agency directly reduces fertility rates and promotes smaller, more sustainable families. 

Upholding the UDHR fosters gender equality, a crucial factor in population stabilization. When women have equal access to education, employment, and political participation, they experience greater economic independence and societal value. This empowers them to challenge harmful norms like child marriage and prioritize their well-being over early childbearing. 

However, addressing unsustainable population growth requires more than individual empowerment. We must also embrace degrowth, a transformative shift away from the relentless pursuit of economic expansion, and towards a circular economy that respects planetary boundaries. 

Degrowth prioritizes human well-being over material accumulation, promoting localized production, resource conservation, and shared prosperity. This model aligns perfectly with the UDHR’s emphasis on social justice and environmental sustainability. By decoupling economic growth from resource consumption, we can ensure a decent standard of living for all within ecological limits, preventing population pressures from exceeding planetary capacity. 

Furthermore, degrowth recognizes the intrinsic rights of nature and animals, enshrined not only in the UDHR’s spirit but also in emerging legal frameworks. By transitioning to a circular economy that mimics natural cycles and respects animal welfare, we move towards a world where human rights and the rights of all living beings are not competing interests, but rather mutually reinforcing pillars of a just and sustainable future. 

A Call to Action: Let’s Make Human Rights a Reality for All 

A world that prioritizes the rights of women and girls is a world on the path to sustainability. When girls are educated, empowered, and have control over their bodies and lives, they become agents of change. They are more likely to participate in the workforce, contribute to economic growth, and invest in their families’ health and education. This creates a ripple effect of positive change, leading to smaller families, reduced poverty, and more sustainable resource use. 

Embracing human rights, particularly those of women and girls, and degrowth principles is not just a moral imperative; it’s a practical necessity for a thriving future. Let’s use this World Human Rights Day to acknowledge this interconnectedness and build a world where human rights and planetary well-being are not at odds, but inextricably linked in a harmonious dance towards a sustainable future for all. 

Support Our Work To End FGM Today

Join us in transforming lives and reshaping societal norms by supporting Population Media Center. Your donation fuels groundbreaking entertainment education initiatives that combat Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage, harnessing the power of storytelling to create lasting change and empower communities worldwide. Together, let’s break the cycle and build a future free from these harmful practices—donate now to make a meaningful impact. Donate
FGM cannot be allowed to continue — and it’s up to all of us in the Kenyan community to stop it. Our work on FGM at PMC-Kenya has convinced us that this is a change we can win, even if it is hard-won. And we know that the wisdom and healing that will flow forth when our girls, and our entire country, is free from this violence will be breathtaking.”
– The above statement was issued in February 2023 by Tom Kazungu, Country Director, PMC-Kenya.