women empowerment # early marriages
Talking about women empowerment during this training session has given me a full sense of Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator statement “Development cannot be achieved if fifty percent of the population is excluded from the opportunities it brings”
As we are working on our projects to help build a better world for women, the reality on the ground shows that we need more than projects, actions and determination to save women and empower them to insure their participation in today’s development.
“You see my dad is trying to make feel me fiance is not a good man. He does not even know him but he can tell he will not make me happy. All because I refused to marry that man he was giving me to” said the young lady sitting beside me
“He may be angry with you for refusing his proposal, so be careful” replied her friend of almost the same age 18- 20 years may be.
“I know he is angry especially because my sister has run away again.”
Again! What do you mean? They’ve found her and she run away again?
“Hummm Cristy, the girl is just 16, but this is her second wedding. He married her last year but the day they took her to the husband house, she escaped and hid at my uncle place. After one week, he came to my father and told him he has found Ramy and beseeched my father to allow her to continue her education at least till she graduates from secondary school and brought her back home. My uncle likes education, when I reached the age to start school, he fought my father and took me by force to his house and sent me to school. But just last week-end, my dad arranged another marriage for her without her notice. But Ramy is smart and intelligent, she run away before they could send her to the husband. Just that this time my uncle has not seen her and my father is blaming me for that… He says I have taught my sisters rebellion against his will. That we don’t know what is good… I am so disturbed because he is planning to marry her to one of our cousin living in our house. And I can’t reach her.”
“Why is he doing that? What is it getting from his daughters entering marriages without your consent knowing it will not work? “
“I don’t know sister; I bless God for my aunties being educated. If I was still living at home with him I would have been married by now. I am so grateful to my aunties to have brought me here to make sure I finish my education. You can’t imagine how lucky I am, to be the only girl in my father’s family to attend university. You can’t imagine…”
When getting down from the taxi, I asked myself: on which planet or era are we? This is my Africa, always doing wonders! I felt for that girl. Though I did not know her I could not stop myself repeating her last sentence pounding in my head - you can’t imagine how lucky I am -, as if she was talking to me. I can imagine how lucky she is because in my mother’s family I am also the only one to attend and complete university. I try to figure how my life would have been if I have not had a chance to attend school or if I had entered marriage without my consent and all I can see is I am indeed lucky not being in that situation.
In Africa, many girls are compelled to leave school and enter marriage. This situation accentuates two major problems we are fighting to solve: illiteracy or under education and early marriage.
While millennium goal aim to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015; some practices, well organised and defended, slow the effort and make the progress difficult.
In Cote d’Ivoire the balance sheet on girls education is still problematic both on access and completing level. According to a survey in 2006, almost 49 % of girls living in cote d’Ivoire do not attend school with strong effect in North-east (63,4%), North-west (74.7%) and mostly in the North (78.3%).
Keeping girls in school till the end of primary education is worrying. Only 17% among 11 years old children are likely to complete primary education compared to 15% for girls.
Already educating a girl is not a priority in many families and tribes were girls are to be raised to fulfill their husband’s needs. Add to that the dropping of girls from schools to enter marriage is a violation of children rights to education. Not only that but also the children are deprived of their adolescence, the victims being mostly girls.
Percentage of 15-19 year-olds married
Sub-Saharan Africa boys girls
Dem. Rep. of Congo 5 74
Niger 4 70
Congo 12 56
Uganda 11 50
Mali 5 50
Afghanistan 9 54
Bangladesh 5 51
Nepal 14 42
Iraq 15 28
Syria 4 25
Yemen 5 24
Latin America and Caribbean
Honduras 7 30
Cuba 7 29
Guatemala 8 24
Source: UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Marriage Patterns 2000
Girls as usual are the most vulnerable and subject to victimisation. From each country to another, the authors of those “crimes” have solutions that are understandable but not enough to justify the deeds.
The first reason people think of is poverty but the old women I discuss with gave me in insight of what has been passed on from generation to generation.
Girls, in olden ages, were raised with the objective of making the husband happy. A valued woman was to be loving, caring and hardworking to find a good party. The men needed the ability to run the household and maintain the family’s status.
Thus, when modern education came with colonization, it is obvious that only men were favoured.
“I had to beg you grand-father to allow your father to attend school and it cost me a lot for him to let me send your aunty too. With only one hectare of Cocoa I paid for their fees and books because to him I was spoiling my daughter instead of building her a future with a good husband.” Explains my grand-mother.
Is it culture transformed in modern society or poverty perverting pure aim of maintaining social status? Whichever way, the experience and circumstances prevail in early marriages indicates it is a practice that need to be stopped.
Marrying a child is sometimes perceived as a strategy for economic survival. It helps remove the financial burden of caring and feeding the girl of the parents in the sense that it will also help the family get financial support from the rich husband but also education support for the younger children or boys of the family. In some cases, it appears to be at the girl advantage. African societies are, for good motives, stick to the family honour to preserve their children morality. Thus marrying the girls-as early as she enters puberty- is a way of preventing premarital sex, avoid out-of-marriage pregnancies bringing honour and respect to the father name.
The fact remains that these “good” measure to keep the girls safe are not without consequences.
Early marriage deprives a girl of her adolescence. By the age of five, a girl in rural Pakistan has learnt to ‘go outside’ as little as possible, and adopt ‘an attitude of care and service towards men’. Obviously, the younger the bride the more chance you have of conditioning her into the appropriate subservient behaviour.
In most cases were the girls do not consent, they end-up being beaten, maltreated and turned into slaves. There are likely to suffer poor hygienic, health and sexual condition. They will end-up with pregnancies complication and psychological disturbance for a condition their body and moral is not prepared and ready to endure.
In Cote d’Ivoire, early after independence, the government put some measure in place to regulate marriage practices.
The age for man to enter marriage is 20 and 18 for a woman. But this regulation is not respected because those child or early marriages are conducted traditionally and the government has no means to control or prevent the phenomenon. Even providing free education for girls and the campaign failed because the girls are too frightened to say no. and the rejection faced the bold ones who run away discourages any other to try. In all our countries, ministries are created to help women and children but somewhere the program are not working as it is suppose to be.
Young girls themselves often see it to be a privileged to leave their fathers house.
“I will never inherit because I am a woman. At least with my husband I can say I have a home and my male children will give me a home.” Aisha was complaining
For Rafi, it is an opportunity to stop gossip in the neighbourhood: “Wherever I am going I have a car and driver at my disposal, I wear nice clothes, visit places my friends around my father house cannot dream of. And they respect me and my mother because I can buy them what they don’t have”
“Even if I do not lack food, I miss my freedom and friends, for ten years I do not know what I want or I think means. All I do is obey and close my eyes on things I dislike. But I cannot go back, I have children and my father will beat my mother to death… I still have in mind how he insulted and beat her when she tried to plead for me. I am 24 years now I have learnt that life is not all about dreams and personal wish. People around you count and you have to think twice before you do anything that can harm them”explained Dali.
The silent consent of these women of their new condition accepted despite themselves is a loud appeal to help save those that have not yet fallen into the trap.
As the United Nations sees Gender equality and women's empowerment to be human rights that lie at the heart of development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals we women have to act and act fast.
The best way to educate a nation is to empower women. In Africa, children education is women affair. If they are empowered, they will surely pass it on to their children, both boy and girls.
Different researches have shown the important role that education must play in efforts to eliminate child marriage. Research by UNICEF shows that the more education a girl receives, the less likely she is to be married as a child. Improving access to education and eliminating gender gaps in education are therefore important strategies for ending the practice of child marriage.
Despite the numerous campaign and progress that has been made, six out of ten of world's poorest people are still women and girls, less than 16 percent of the world's parliamentarians are women, two thirds of all children shut outside the school gates are girls. In conflict torned country like Cote d’Ivoire, the number of girls drooping from school will surely increase with this ascent of violence.
While African value their customs and seek for improvement of their life condition, it is essential to take into consideration their view of the subject in order to implement good measure that will involve each and every actor of the problem as well as the victims themselves.
It is important to men to understand and believe that women are not trying to challenge them or take their place in the society but just find their own place and contribute to development.
We need to ensure free education with easy to understand and implement policy for both girls and boys. But also provide flexible schedules to allow girls to meet domestic responsibilities were needed. The project should also include men and women of public recognition and good influence to help.
Create girl oriented seminar and program to show the importance of educating a girl and the benefit for development not just for a period but for long enough to turn it into habits.
We need also to adapt the millennium goals objective to the reality in Africa taking into account the education, comprehension level and financial abilities.
We should be able to protect those who refuse to drop from school and enter early marriages. This will concentrate on two major action. Helping those that are affected and encouraging and protecting the mothers who suffer for their personal or their children bold action of refusal.
At the same time, the fathers or parents feeling betrayed and humiliated by the refusal of a daughter to enter arranged marriage will need psychological and moral help to understand and forgive their families.
At the same time, girls suffering from physical damage resulting of rape, giving birth complication and trauma will need emergency support and care.
Our government will also have to reinforce the laws protecting married and unmarried women and girls