While THIMUN is full of students aspiring to change the world, it is not every day that we get to hear from someone who is actually out there changing it. Dutch Princess Mabel van Oranje, initiator of the organization Girls Not Brides came to THIMUN to give a speech about her movement and how one can go about making changes in this world. She is not just a princess, but “also an activist,” who is striving to create a better world where people are more educated. She is doing this through working to end child marriage which is an issue that people around the world are not sufficiently informed on.
When a child is married under the age of 18, it is possible that she will get pregnant on the first night of her marriage, likely that she will become a victim of domestic violence, and more likely that she will die in childbirth or get various diseases including HIV/AIDS. The truth is that this will most likely not happen to any of the students who attended her talk at THIMUN, but it is happening to 15 million girls around the world every year, one girl every two seconds. This is completely unacceptable.
Mabel van Oranje proposed five lessons to being a changemaker that she learned while approaching this issue.
LESSON #1: The Impossible is Possible. Think Big.
When she first began, child marriage was a issue that was rarely talked about. It was happening generation after generation with the custom being passed on. The main reason for it is gender inequality, girls being valued less than boys, but the whole issue is very complex.
LESSON #2: You Need to Be Pragmatic.
Change needs to happen on the ground. It must begin with many small efforts that combine to create a larger outcome. Girls Not Brides had four main interventions that were focussed on to accomplish its goal: 1. The need to empower girls. 2. The need to sensitize communities. 3. The need to make sure that there were alternatives to the generally accepted norms. 4. The need for laws and policies.
While each of these interventions might not have greatly helped on its own, together they can make the change that Girls Not Brides is working towards. While there are mistakes on every journey, it is important to remember that these failures are learning experiences which build the foundation needed for success.
LESSON #3: We Can Each Be a Changemaker, but Nobody Can Do It Alone.
All the support from each and every person combines to make a big change. This is the perfect embodiment of the well-known phrase, a little goes a long way.
LESSON #4: While Change Can Only Happen When People Work Together, A Leader is Needed.
The leader does not need to be someone with a well-known title or millions of euros. Informal leaders are just as important and sometimes even more important.
LESSON #5: You Need Patience
“People always overestimate what you can achieve in the short term and underestimate what you can achieve and get done in the long term.” It is important to never forget that your goal is possible, even if it seems it is taking longer than expected.
The audience was left knowing that a difference can and is being made in the movement against child marriage. Hopefully in the coming years, more and more girls will have access to a proper education and only have to marry when they wish to. Hopefully, their futures will not come to an early end. Hopefully, girls will be able to be girls and not brides.
These are only some of the many lessons Mabel van Oranje had to offer, but they were enough to inspire many THIMUN students to look for the changes they themselves could make. The following questions were just a few of the many that THIMUN Conference Participants had:
What are the biggest obstacles?
One of the things that is complicated is connecting people, because Girls Not Brides works with organizations in so many different countries. When you work with people who are very different, it is difficult to know how to best approach the issue and get people to collaborate.
What are the reactions and opinions of the girls you’ve helped?
The reactions are sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hopeful. One girl in Ethiopia spoke of her wedding day as, “the day [she] had to leave school.” It is girls like her and many others who have had their futures cut off.
When you introduce these new ideas, what are the reactions of the young girls to these ideas they’ve never encountered?
They love it. “When you’ve been told your whole life that you’re worth nothing, it’s transformational to hear that there are other options.”
Do you have a personal connection to the subject of child marriage?
Not at all. About 8 years ago, I was having a moment with a friend and then realized I knew nothing about the issue. I considered myself reasonably well-informed and wondered if maybe other people were not aware of the issue either. This sparked my dedication to the movement.
After seeing a speech as engaging as this one, it would be difficult to not to desire to make a change. Everyone in that audience seemed rightfully inspired by Mabel van Oranje’s words and it was truly a privilege to be in the presence of a person who saw an injustice in the world and is doing everything she can to fix it. We can only hope that some of the students will take her advice to heart and go on to make their own great changes in the world.