I am often asked what we can do to help build a better world. Today, let me quote our dear Chair Archbishop Tutu, who recently told an audience of international business and political leaders: “If you want a formula from me, I would say: first, ensure there is gender equality.”
We Elders have all experienced remarkable transformations in our own lifetimes; we know that there is an alternative, that wrongs can be righted.
But for girls and women, the great progress we have made over the last few decades is not enough. Until all of us share the same opportunities – to get an education, to work, to lead – we can never truly prosper.
Shortly after Archbishop Tutu took this message to the 'movers and shakers' at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he joined me in India together with our fellow Elders Ela Bhatt and Mary Robinson.
We were there to learn about the inspiring work being done to tackle one of the biggest obstacles facing millions of girls today - child marriage. India is home to one third of the world's child brides; we wanted to see what we could do to connect grassroots campaigners with regional and national decision-makers.
We were very fortunate to be able to spend time with a wonderful group of young people involved in Jagriti (which means 'Awakening' in Hindi), a campaign to stop child marriage in the state of Bihar.
They told us of the pressure their families put them under to marry young, but inspired us with their determination to resist early marriage and realise their dreams. These boys and girls want the chance to fulfil their potential, to be part of their country's rapid rise – and they are taking the matter into their own hands.
It is these kinds of efforts, empowering girls within their families and communities, that will make a difference. The message we heard again and again was that India – and indeed, all of us around the world – can no longer afford to let girls be married off young, excluded from the workforce, and denied the opportunity to participate in the processes that govern their lives.
If we want to build a better world, we must put gender equality right at the centre of development – because when girls and women are empowered, everybody prospers.
I wish you all the best,
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