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International Day of the Girl Child: Mounina's story

The story of Mounina in Mali who is using her platform as a beauty queen to help young girls avoid child marriage.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 06 Oct 2023

A young woman (Mounina) wears a sparkly crown and a beauty queen sash. She smiles brightly as she looks down. Mounina is using her platform as 1st princess Miss Mali to raise awareness about the consequences of child marriage.

Mounina smiles proudly. After input from a Tearfund programme and strong support from her mother, Mounina avoided being given in marriage at the age of 14. Now, at 19, Mounina is studying for a degree at university and using her platform as a beauty queen to raise awareness about the consequences of child marriage. Credit: Tearfund

A young woman with a sparkly crown and a bright smile stands tall in a bright dress and a satin sash. Her smiling mum stands nearby. She looks proud. And well she might be. The young woman is called Mounina. She is from Kayes, Mali, (a swelteringly-hot city on the Senegal river) and she is speaking out to help other girls who, like she once was, are at risk of being given in marriage at a very young age.

For millions of girls and women around the world, child marriage – whether forced or arranged – is a situation that robs them of opportunities and education and often leaves them vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Miss Mali 2023 first runner up: winning a beautiful platform

Realising it was an effective platform to speak to the exact audience who needed to hear her message, Mounina’s determination, courage and passion led her to enter a local beauty contest.

And she won! By entering – and winning – the crown of MISS ORTM-Kayes 2023, Mounina won the opportunity to travel to Bamako and compete in the national contest for Miss Mali 2023. She was named first princess and, whilst the beauty pageant industry has issues all of its own to address, for 19-year-old Mounina, it has given her a voice on a public stage that not many other platforms would offer to a young woman. It has given her a wider reach for the message that she and her mother have been sharing with young girls and their families for the last five years – of empowerment and opportunity.

However, Mounina’s story could have been very different.

At age 14, she was doing her year 9 at school and, as is often tradition within the community, Mounina’s father was preparing to give her away in marriage. This would have been the end of her education. Mounina loves studying but she’s also a polite and respectful girl who had been brought up to believe, as her father did, that the marriage was the right thing to do.

Journey to Healing and a mother’s love

But Mounina’s mother saw things differently. She disagreed with the idea of giving up her young daughter and cutting her schooling short. Mounina’s father argued forcibly in favour of the marriage, but her mother felt that it wasn’t the right choice. Then, Mounina’s mother attended some training set up by Tearfund’s local partner, Association Protestante de la Santé au Mali/Protestant Health Association in Mali (APSM). The sessions, from a Tearfund programme called Journey to Healing*, talked about the issue of SGBV. In particular, they examined the consequences for women of early and forced marriages. What Mounina’s mother heard raised her hope for a different and better future for her daughter and she approached the project manager for help.

‘My heart aches when I meet some of my former classmates who entered into early marriage and already have two or three children and have all the difficulties of supporting themselves and their children.’
Mounina, first runner up, Miss Mali

As a result of this, staff from Tearfund’s local partner spent time speaking with young Mounina and discussing with her what the consequences of early marriage might be for her in the short, medium and long term. After considering all of the information, Mounina changed her mind and decided that she wanted to continue her schooling. Having understood the advantages of school for a girl, she committed herself to working hard and she obtained her DEF (Diploma of Fundamental Study) that same year. She then followed on with high school, where she obtained her baccalaureate in 2020, and currently she is doing a university degree in Marketing and Communication.

Raising awareness to end child marriage

Since 2017, when Mounina’s mother first came into contact with Tearfund’s local partner, both Mounina and her mother have been involved in conducting awareness activities on early and forced marriages in their neighbourhood and at school and continue to have a good relationship with APSM.

Mounina says she is thankful to God and to her parents – particularly to her mother for setting the example by standing her ground in the face of multiple pressures. She says, ‘at the beginning I did not understand, but she [Mounina's mother] persevered despite the criticism, the scorn, the sleepless nights.’ Mounina is also grateful to APSM and Tearfund. She says, ‘They took me from the wrong path to the right one. I thank them for the good advice, guidance and wise words. Thanks to them, I am proud of myself today. However, my heart aches when I meet some of my former classmates who entered into early marriage and already have two or three children and have all the difficulties of supporting themselves and their children.’

The consequences of child marriage

The UN reports that up to 10 million girls are at risk of child marriage every year.

Child marriage robs girls of the power to make decisions about their lives, disrupting their education and making them more vulnerable to violence and abuse. It is also often accompanied by early and frequent pregnancy and childbirth, which results in higher than average rates of death in both mothers and infants.

Mounina says she prays for many other girls, like her, ‘to be saved from early marriage’.

Plans for hope and a future for girls 

‘In the months to come,’ she tells us, ‘I plan to create a Youth Association in Kayes to fight against illegal immigration of young people, SGBV in general and the practice of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) in particular.’

[Read more here about the wider issue of FGM/C]

‘In addition to these projects, I want to encourage youth entrepreneurship for the development and fulfilment of young people in the region of Kayes. The winner [Miss Mali] and the second princess and I are working together to establish a joint project for the development of young girls.’

‘I am a happy and honoured mother… My heartfelt appeal to parents is to ask them to let their girls study and not to give them away early in marriage, but rather to encourage them to work well at school.’
Mounina’s mother

Mounina’s mother is, understandably, proud of her daughter. She says, ‘I am a happy and honoured mother. I have received so many calls from everywhere, from inside and outside to congratulate me. This is the place for me to thank APSM and Tearfund… My heartfelt appeal to parents is to ask them to let their girls study and not to give them away early in marriage, but rather to encourage them to work well at school.’

*Journey to Healing is a survivor-centred approach which was co-developed with survivors of SGBV. It is a peer-to-peer support group model and creates a supportive environment for healing which acknowledges and respects survivors’ agency, autonomy and decision-making potential. It creates safe spaces for survivors to speak out and overcome trauma: a journey from fear to courage, from self-doubt to confidence about their future.

Pray for the safety of girls

    • Thank God for every girl child around the world. Pray that each one will know God’s love deeply and will have the opportunity to thrive and live out the potential placed within her.
    • Lift up all those who speak out for the rights of women and girls. Ask God to give them platforms in all areas of life and to open doors in all arenas, so that their message will be heard.
    • Pray for the protection of girls everywhere.

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Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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