In its 2015 regional annual report, UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations that promotes international collaboration in education, science, and culture, listed Mozambique as one of the countries in Africa with the highest incidence of girl marriage. To some on the continent, this is an accepted practice. But to others like Zuriel Oduwole, a Santa Clarita youth education advocate, it is a culture that robs millions of young girls of a promising and productive future.
In 2018, something began to give in Mozambique. The country’s first lady, H.E. Isaura Nyusi, was announced as the recipient of the annual DUSUSU Awards, in recognition of her continuous work for girl’s education.
The Award History
The year was 2014. The Republicans has just taken over control of the senate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had won elections in the worlds largest democracy – India. Oil prices had crashed from its high of over $100, the Brazil World Cup brought the world together, Scotland voted to stay as part of the UK, and Russia had annexed Crimea.
While all the above were going on, a young Oduwole, then 11, had a simple idea to recognize two categories of female leaders (a first lady and a gender minister) on the continent, who are working tirelessly and recording measurable differences in improving the lives and well-being of young girls in their countries.
The event in Mozambique, during which First Lady Nyusi received the 2018 award in Maputo was a moment of pride and celebration. It was broadcast on national television and attended by senior government officials including the education minister, diplomats, and a cross section of school children.
Real Hope Emerges in a Country
During her visit to Mozambique to present the award, Oduwole, who is now a student at UCLA, met with President Filipe Nyusi. Her conversation with Nyusi centered on education, and the potentials his country’s girls could add to their economy if they are empowered, educated, and skilled in various fields. She showed herself simply as an example of what can be accomplished if a girl is educated and culturally encouraged without limitations.
In July 2019, after series of intense conversations that begun during her visit 18 months earlier and a reinvigorated interest from the First Lady’s office, Mozambique finally outlawed girl marriage, making the practice a crime punishable by imprisonment. It has brought ‘real hope’ to many young girls in the country, who otherwise could have been married off today.
The landmark legislation in Mozambique was the culmination of a series of events and the hard work of many, that was reinvigorated with the presentation of the 2018 DUSUSU Awards to the country’s First Lady.
To date, five other African First ladies have received the DUSUSU Award, including the first ladies of Tanzania (2014), Kenya (2015), Namibia (2016), Senegal (2017) and Cabo Verde (2019). Their recognition spurs them and others to do more, for girls in their countries.
It is lightly rumored that when African first ladies meet at some of their annual events or similar gatherings, they jokingly talk about their accolades, but the pride of accolades has become the DUSUSU Award. This is primarily because it has no political, regional power, or other external influence in its decision. Rather, it was created and is presented by a teenage girl, who sees through a simple innocent prism, that has now become a new standard in award recognition.
THE 2020 DUSUSU Award
The First Lady of Sierra Leone, H.E Fatima Maada Bio, has been announced as the recipient and has been presented with 2020 DUSUSU Award at a simple but elegant event. It is for her wide-ranging national campaign titled ‘Hands Off Our Girls” launched in late 2018. Her initiative zeros in on the deep-rooted problems of sexual violence against girls in the country, a bye product of the history of nations past civil war, where girls were seen as properties and spoils of war.
Congratulations to her and the people of Sierra Leone. The search for the 2021 recipient can now begin.
For more information on Zuriel Oduwole, visit https://www.zurieloduwole.com/foundation.
For more information about the DUSUSU awards, visit http://www.dreamupspeakupstandup.com/dususu.html.