This young activist is ending child marriage in Guatemala

June 22, 2022
By Sirena Cordova
June 22, 2022

In 2015, Guatemala’s government increased the legal age of marriage to 18 after girl-led organizations and coalitions (and Plan!) advocated for the change.

Good news, right? Well, sort of.

There was also a loophole that allowed people to easily skirt the new law. In the following two years, 2,221 child marriages were registered — more than three-quarters of which were between adolescent girls and adult men. After years of additional organizing, petitioning and advocating by local groups, the loophole was closed in 2017.

Danha was there to help make it all happen. She had just started her advocacy work at 16 years old, participating in several community projects with Plan and campaigning with local coalitions to advocate for the change in law.

“I met many girls with endless limitations, which undoubtedly made me reflect that I have grown up with certain comforts that other girls have not had the opportunity to have,” Danha says. “In addition, I also identified that in some way, I could contribute.”

Since then, Danha has continued to work with groups in Guatemala to fight for gender equality and support youth leadership. While she is completing her degree in social work, she’s the coordinator and facilitator of the Red Las Niñas Lideran Network, which mobilizes girls and young women to advance initiatives related to health, education and equity at the local and national levels.

“This space allowed me to learn about a reality that I did not know, and I wanted to start contributing with my leadership so that more girls and adolescents could strengthen their leadership and achieve [their life plans],” Danha says.

Danha is also the cofounder of Jóvenas Latidas, a Latin American movement and network of diverse young women throughout the region who advocate for gender equality and adolescents’ rights surrounding child, early and forced marriage.

“We want to [ensure] that girls and adolescents are in important decision-making spaces, that their opinions are respected and that they have a voice in the decisions that are based on our rights,” Danha says. “We will continue working to one day achieve a solid, sustainable network that can create projects and coordinated actions — organized and implemented by ourselves — where spaces are generated not only for 20 or 30 girls, but thousands of girls who are involved in exercising leadership that [transforms their reality].”

[Read:From El Salvador to the U.S.: Meet the young advocate making change for girls]

Recently, Danha participated in Plan USA’s International Women’s Day event on Mar. 9, 2022 to talk about the campaign she and Red Las Niñas Lideran are leading, called “Marriage is not my only option.” Powered by funding from Plan’s Equality Accelerator, a global girl-led funding platform that connects young activists with resources to implement local initiatives, Danha is continuing to fight for a shift in marriage practices in Guatemala.

“As we all know, the law is a first [step] to regulate social change,” Danha explains. “However, there are many ways in which the issue can still manifest itself.”

For instance, girls can still be forced into unions not formally registered as marriages with the government. It’s difficult to get information to the entire population in Guatemala about the laws meant to protect girls from child marriage, and Danha says these unions are still happening.

Her group’s campaign shares materials in both Spanish and Kakchiquel, the indigenous Mayan language local to the region, and engages a number of public groups like fire departments and health centers in community workshops to raise awareness. Through Plan’s Equality Accelerator, Las Niñas Lideran, in coordination with Danha, received funding directly — something not usually available from other donors.

“From 2021 to date, the Equality Accelerator has provided spaces [for us] to continue building our skills in fund management, since as youth organizations, we have many limitations to [access] funds [because they] require a legal status,” Danha says. “We are sure that this process has helped girls and adolescents to demonstrate the power and potential we have to create something from our opinion and position, and this experience encourages us to continue acting for the rights of girls and adolescents.”

Right now, there are more than 2,500 girl-led organizations registered with the Equality Accelerator in Guatemala, Brazil, countries in West Africa and soon, in parts of Asia.

“We recognize that only by organizing ourselves, actively participating and raising our voices can we achieve that our demands and needs are taken into account,” Dahna says. “But it is important that we join efforts because we cannot make a great impact alone.”

Learn more about the Equality Accelerator and how it’s supporting girl-led activist groups around the world!