Dena Kimball | The Kendeda Fund | 16 November 2017
Since 2013, The Kendeda Fund has been on a philanthropic journey to address the issue of early- and child-marriage (ECM) so prevalent in South Asia and around the world. Nearly five years into the work, I am simultaneously more confident that sustainable progress can be achieved and more humbled by what it will take to get us there.
When we started our girls’ rights and ECM work, we came into it with an assumption that change, to be effective, lasting and true, had to be community driven and bottom-up. It is a value that cuts across all of our programs in one form or another. So why should it be any different in South Asia?
Reflections from recent trips to Nepal, India and Bangladesh, however, have helped me to see the community-driven change we want to support in a subtler, more nuanced light.
The best approach, we now believe, is a community-led model that addresses root causes of early- and child-marriage, including patriarchal beliefs about girls’ bodies and sexuality. But it is a model that is built by and for politicized collectives of girls, rather than merely collections of girls whose best interests are decided and advocated for in more traditional, predictable, top-down ways.
Three lessons learned help illustrate what I mean:
We have a tremendous amount still to learn of course. But five years into the work, these essential early lessons are coming into focus.
The most significant successes that we’ve seen on ECM tend to emerge from girl-centered, girl-led collectives who have gone through a feminist analysis of their situations. This approach tends to leave the organization better prepared to advocate locally and (over time) nationally, for more equitable laws and access to critical resources.
When we, as funders, meet these girls’ groups, our job should be to ask the hard questions about how they are structured, who makes decisions, and to what extent they are politically empowered to be agents of change versus just being the passive beneficiaries of a traditional NGO program.