Malawi’s 23 year old girl child advocate, Memory Banda, has been awarded the United Nations’ Young Activist Award for her efforts in fighting child marriage and promoting access to education for girls. The high level award ceremony which took place in Geneva attracted Ministers, Diplomats, UN officials, NGO leaders and other dignitaries.
Speaking during the ceremony, UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem applauded Memory for her efforts in safeguarding rights of her fellow young people. “It is your efforts that are helping us to build a more just, a more inclusive and a more sustainable future. You have proven that indeed women are powerful change makers”, Said Kanem.
In her acceptance speech, Ms Banda dedicated the award to the vigilant girls in rural areas who are working tirelessly to change the status quo of their communities. “I grew up in a society where child marriage, sexual violence and early pregnancies have been rampant. In my childhood, I have seen many girls dropping out of school, getting pregnant, forced into marriages and sexually violated. My own sister was forced to marry to a man that impregnated her at 11. The community did nothing about it but encouraged girls to accept and be silent. In extreme cases, girls were being raped and community justified such acts as cultural through cleansing the girls” lamented memory.
From 2013 to 2017, Memory, who is the Founder of Foundation 4 Girls Leadership (F4GL) led campaigns dubbed I will marry when I want and the Girl Plan under Genet and Plan Malawi which mobilised 42000 people online and on the streets to sign a petition to raise marriage age to 18 and request the government to remove all the irregularities pertaining to the definition of a child. All the campaigns were successful. Through her work, she has mentored 2000 girls in the past five years and has inspired thousands of other girls and women globally.
I started mobilizing girls in my community and country to stand up and fight for their rights and gender equality. I strongly believe that girls are change agents and with empowerment change is invertible. For the past 5 years, I have been mentoring over 2000 girls in Malawi and inspire thousands of other girls and young women globally through her work. She has spoken at high level meetings including United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Commission on Status of Women (CSW) and TED talk among many international platforms. Her work has been covered in international media such as BBC, CNN, Forbes Magazine among others.
Memory was awarded the International inspiring youth student Award in 2015 in Taiwan and she was also nominated for the Kids Right Prize Award. Currently, she is a member of Pan African Young Speakers and Activists; Freedom Speakers Bureau under the Human Rights Foundation, recognized Goalkeeper for the Global Goals under the Gates Foundation. She has served as a board member for both local and international organizations as an advisor on adolescent girls.
Other awardees were Nadia Burad who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end sexual violence as a weapon of war, Amy and Ella Meek from United Kingdom who are sisters that launched a global campaign to end plastic pollution, Hamangai Pataxo an environmental advocate from Brazil and Rebecca Kabuo a leader in the movement for good governance in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)