Advocate to End Child Marriage. Rapper. Survivor.
Advocate to End Child Marriage. Rapper. Survivor.
Every year, 12 million girls are married before they turn 18 years old. That means every year 12 million dreams go dark. When a girl becomes a bride, her fundamental human rights are shattered: she almost always loses her opportunity for an education, her health is put in peril and her safety at risk. Child marriage happens everywhere. It devastates the lives of girls, negatively impacts communities and ultimately stunts the growth of nations.
As a young woman who barely escaped becoming a child bride, Sonita Alizadeh is well-aware of the devastating consequences of forced marriage. Sonita was born in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime but grew up as an undocumented refugee in Iran where she faced forced marriage as a teenager. Still unsure of her fate in 2014, she wrote the song Daughters for Sale to express her pain and share her experience and the experience of so many of her friends. Part of this period in her life was captured in the documentary Sonita.
In January 2015, Sonita came to the United States to pursue her dream of getting an education through a Strongheart Bridge Scholarship. Sonita quickly realized she was not satisfied with the turn in only her story, for she was still haunted by experiences of her friends, and she soon joined Strongheart’s Change Agent Program to impact systems level change. Over the course of a few short years, Sonita has transformed from a teenager with no formal education to a high school graduate recognized as a leading youth advocate to end child marriage worldwide.
Sonita’s advocacy has been created in partnership with Strongheart. Today, she is one of the foremost public thought leaders on the issue of child marriage — serving as a Girls Not Bride Champion; participating in high level events; collaborating with organizations across sectors; elevating the issue with music and media all over the world; and raising the global collective consciousness.
Sonita’s message is reaching the highest levels of global leadership, and her story and vision are inspiring young people around the world to stand up against child marriage.
Her advocacy to end child marriage has reached the United Nations, U.S. Department of State, Dutch and Norwegian Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the World Bank Group, the First Lady of Afghanistan and Ambassadors from around the world. Sonita has spoken with heads of state and Nobel Laureates and been interviewed by today’s top journalists and thought leaders.
As a Girls Not Brides Champion, Sonita is recognized as an advocate who can open doors which would otherwise be shut; can be a strong voice in the media; and can inspire activists and civil society groups in realizing they are not alone in working to end the practice of child marriage. Strongheart works with members of Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of 1000+ civil society organisations committed to ending child marriage, and has traveled to Malaysia for their Global Meeting to expand our team’s understanding of changing trends, best practices, and latest challenges so that Strongheart can help bridge connections and support Sonita in her most powerful, informed advocacy.
Sonita maintains steady outreach in between events and projects as an influencer on social media with followers including United Nations branches, government departments, consulates, and embassies, leading NGOs, thought leaders, celebrities and influencers, youth leaders and youth-led orgs, journalists, think tanks, and cultural centers.
Together with Sonita, Strongheart has strategically developed Sonita’s advocacy work, built organizational relationships, created storytelling content, and coordinated with media outlets to ensure Sonita’s messages reach broad audiences. Her advocacy to end child marriage has been distributed in 40+ countries in over 300 publications through outlets including TIME, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, CNN, PRI, BBC, Vice, BuzzFeed News, and Teen Vogue.
Sonita’s favorite form of expression is rap. Together and with our partners, we’ve co-created powerful songs, music videos, and performances that attract and engage wide audiences in conversations around themes including child marriage, refugee and displacement crises, and youth activism.
In 2016, Strongheart and Sonita partnered with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Speak Truth to Power program to write a curriculum on child marriage, human rights, and civic engagement. In its first two years, the curriculum reached over 1.5 million students in 16 countries and now, in partnership with Discovery Education, it will be reaching an additional 30 million students.
To date, Sonita has been featured in three books as an outspoken activist and role model to youth everywhere. Her advocacy has been widely recognized for its impact and reach to inspire and empower. Her honors include: