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Guest Profile

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Mabel van Oranje


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About Mabel van Oranje

A global advocate for freedom, justice and development, Mabel van Oranje is the Founder and Chair of ‘Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage’. She more recently founded 'Vow' -- Vow to End Child Marriage.

She is also co-founder and the executive chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations. She is a member of the (advisory) boards of Global Witness, the Malala Fund, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, and The Elders.

In 1993, Mabel founded the European Action Council for Peace in the Balkans and was its CEO until 1997. In 1997, she joined the Open Society Foundations (OSF) as Executive Director of its Brussels office, becoming OSF’s London-based International Advocacy Director in 2003. From 2008 until 2012, she was the first CEO of The Elders.


Mabel helped found the Dutch foundation War Child (1995), the global NGO coalition ‘Publish What You Pay’ (2002) and the Independent Commission on Turkey (2004). She has been actively engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS and in global efforts that led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002.


Mabel has received a number of awards, including a Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship (2014), the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award (2014) and the ICRW Champions for Change Award for Innovation (2015) for her work with Girls Not Brides. She accepted the Dutch Geuzenpenning (2018) on behalf of Girls Not Brides.

Episode Overview

Founder of Girls Not Brides and Vow, and serial entrepreneur for social change, Mabel van Oranje, joins Alberto Lidji in the run-up to International Women’s Day to discuss eliminating child marriage.


Mabel sheds light on the issue of child marriage and the two organisations she has founded: Girls Not Brides and ‘Vow’ – the Vow to End Child Marriage. She provides great insight into the causes and consequences of child marriage, underscores how it is very much a global problem and expresses her dream to see child marriage eliminated from the globe by 2030.


Girls Not Brides is active in 100 countries and has around 1,300 member organisations – all of who aim to eliminate child marriage. It’s an umbrella organisation open to every non-governmental and civil society organisation working to tackle and eliminate this problem.


Girls Not Brides was launched in 2011 with just 50 member organisations. Today, they provide many services to their member organisations, including information sharing, convening, working to raise awareness and change policy and legislation, ensuring governments place child marriage high on their agenda.


More recently, Mabel launched ‘Vow’ – the Vow to End Child Marriage – an initiative to make sure that more money goes to local, grass-roots organisations that are focused on child marriage. Vow aims to mobilise the entire wedding industry (think of everyone who is involved in any capacity, such as the companies that produce wedding dresses, the caterers, photographers etc, and the couples themselves and their families, too.  Getting everyone “to come together, as Vow, and to basically say ‘when a couple in the rich West says I DO, they make it possible for girls elsewhere in the world to say I DON’T.” The wedding industry in the US alone is worth $100 billion. Vow generates income in various ways, such as taking a commission on wedding gift registries, selling ‘Vow’ products and encouraging couples and wedding guests to make gifts to Vow.


Mabel sheds light on the current state of affairs pertaining to child marriage, and highlights that globally there are approximately 12 million girls getting married before the age of 18 every year.  When girls get married, they often have to leave school, are exposed to abusive situations; their physical and mental health suffer.


Mabel provides listeners with a glimpse into her childhood and the surroundings that led her to become a serial entrepreneur for social change.


Mabel grew up in a middle class family; her father used to travel to Latin America for work and would see much poverty there. It created a sense of injustice in her. She wondered why is it that she enjoys great healthcare and education while other less fortunate people in other countries do not; she holds the belief that geography should not determine destiny.


Mabel’s dream today is to see child marriage eliminated by 2030, the target year of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Mabel’s key takeaway: while change needs to happen locally we can all make contributions. Push your lawmakers in your country if 18 isn’t the minimum age of marriage without exceptions, and do go to Vow to End Child Marriage and make sure if you’re getting married you Vow your wedding; if your friends are getting married make sure they Vow their weddings. Everyone can make a difference, but nobody can do it alone. If you want to create big change, and that’s what she’s trying to do, you need to create an enormous wave of change. And, never forget that a big wave is composed of millions and millions of drops of water. Each one of us is an individual drop and, together, we can create that wave of change.

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Additional Resources

Mabel van Oranje -- Twitter


Girls Not Brides - Website

Vow to End Child Marriage - Website


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