Why unraveling women’s rights is a monumental loss to the future of our planet – unless we act

By Naza Alakija of the Sage Foundation, a UK-based nonprofit that campaigns for the rights of girls globally and to end child marriage in Nigeria.

June 24, 2022 is a date women will remember for decades. When the world woke up to the news that Roe v. Wade had been overturned, the inscrutable decision to limit a woman’s right to abortion was a stark signal that an anti-women’s rights movement has gathered pace and is now woven into the fabric. of the western world.

This patriarchal resistance proactively overturned the hard-won rights and freedoms of previous generations; rights that were deeply needed for development progress to be made – and now women who had long hoped that their basic freedoms would be guaranteed found themselves on shaky ground.

In the relentless context of challenges and regimes against women that we have witnessed in developing countries, Roe v. Wade casts a net of fear far beyond the borders of the United States.

Just a few weeks after the decision, we can already feel that this decision has given new impetus to existing anti-women’s rights movements around the world. Over the years, the United States has identified itself as a nation that represents a beacon of freedom, whose core values ​​are based on freedom and choice.

But as we watch one of the key members of the United Nations Security Council strip women of their autonomy over their bodies, we have to wonder what message this sends to dozens of countries around the world, and what permission does this he grants to brutalist regimes that limit the future of women.

Activist Naza Alakija fights against child marriage and empowers girls across Nigeria and globally through her nonprofit Sage Foundation.
Image: Sage Foundation

Faced with the reality that this movement is not unique to one location, race or creed, where in the world are the rights of women and girls most at risk? And what does the loss of these rights mean in terms of progress? If there is one thing that is certain, without an empowered female population and without female leaders, the devastation of the climate crisis will increase dramatically as we lose the strength of their contribution.

In Nigeria, a country of enormous untapped potential, post-colonial chaos and corruption have resulted in unimaginable levels of poverty and wealth disparity. As a result, child marriage is an epidemic that has been allowed to spread across the country.

Today, according to UNICEF, there are at least 22 million child brides living in Nigeria, with an astonishing 44% of girls married before their 18th birthday. We know that child marriage does more than steal these girls’ childhoods, their education, their freedom and their future. It also perpetuates the cycle of poverty in society as it immediately removes their contribution as empowered citizens, who could create change and drive innovation, and trigger circular economies.

When we examine Nigerian legislation, which women-led NGOs such as It’s Never Your Fault have fought valiantly to reform, we realize that a loophole allows the practice to continue legally across the country, without consequence.

Millions of Nigerians benefit every year from two conflicting clauses: Section 23 of the Nigerian Child Rights Act 2003 states that “A person below the age of 18 is incapable of entering into a valid marriage. such marriage takes place, it must be declared null and void and of no effect.” Contrary to this, Section 29 (4b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that “every married woman shall be deemed to be of full age.”

This semantics is so powerful that it allows girls as young as 11 to be forcibly married off to men much older than them, bearing children while they themselves are still children, their lives cut short before they are allowed to start. They are doomed to a future where they can never contribute to the progress their country so desperately aspires to.

Activist Naza Alakija with a group of children she works with through her nonprofit Sage Foundation.
Image: Sage Foundation

In Afghanistan, the country’s women are brave, talented and vivacious, and their potential to help heal their broken country knows no bounds. Currently, the UN estimates that at least 55% of the country faces extreme levels of hunger, and by mid-2022 it is estimated that 97% of the country could be living in poverty. The answer, of course, is not to restrict the country’s remarkable young women’s access to education, or restrict their freedom of movement, or demand that they cover their faces in public. It’s a far cry from what these wonderful women deserve, and what their societies, and the next generation, deserve too.

As the existential threat facing our people and planet continues to unfold, the world has never been more aware of the collective power needed to alter our course and shape our future.

But knowing this, we have to ask ourselves, if the rights of 50% of this population are denied, how can we move forward? Among our most powerful solutions to tackle the climate crisis, there is no greater potential than the inclusion of educated women and girls in our society. When they are given the right to use their voice, to turn their dreams into skills, they will have the power to redefine the future of humanity as we know it.

As we examine the fallout from Roe v. Wade, one thing is very clear: the answer to spurring progress is never to take away women’s rights, but to grant them. For some, the reversal of this case is simply a change in legislation. For others, it’s a gripping dinner table debate or a fiery social media post. In reality, it is an annihilation of a woman’s right to make a choice about her body and her future.

Today, we must all choose to stand up and defend our fundamental rights and our freedom to contribute to the decisions that shape our common future. This fight to reclaim and protect our remaining rights cannot be won by a few of us. It will take all of our collective power, and it must start now.

You can join the movement by taking action to protect and advance the rights of women and girls around the world NOW. Head over to our Empower Girls campaign page and take action now to ensure women and girls everywhere have access to the healthcare, nutrition and education they need and deserve.