In the North Shoha Ethiopian region, east of the capital Addis Ababa, The Hunger Project is actively working within the Her Choice alliance to end child marriages. For example by setting up Girls Clubs, through lessons on sexual rights, by increasing economic security for girls and their families, and through village discussions. The entire village is involved: high schools, religious leaders, police officers, hospital staff and village volunteers – everyone participates. Pictures: Johannes Odé/ The Hunger Project
The colorful building of the relax room on the grounds of Kobeb Mesk’s high school stands out. This relax room is specially intended for menstruating girls, and is an initiative of the Girls Club. For the girls, it is a huge improvement: if they have their period, they can change their sanitary pads, take a rest and wash.
Bereket Getnet: “I have to walk a long way from home to school, so I can’t go home to change myself there. And I have no money for sanitary pads. Previously I therefore stayed at home when I had my period. Then I always missed my lessons and I lagged behind with the curriculum. Now I can change my sanitary pads at school, with washable sanitary pads that we make ourselves with the Girls Club. That is a big improvement! ”
Girls Clubs: strong together
At this high school – and two other schools in the region – The Hunger Project is active with the Her Choice program. At the initiative of Her Choice, Girls Clubs were established at the schools. Girls from school can attend weekly meetings there. Under the guidance of a teacher, they discuss problems and give each other advice.
Teacher Alemeshet Abeka supervises the Girls Club at the school in Kobeb Mesk: “The girls can come to me and the members of the Girls Club if necessary. For example if their parents want to marry them off. We then advise these girls on what they should discuss with their parents and what they should know. Such as the fact that it is prohibited by law to marry under the age of 18. If a girl can’t figure it out with her parents, I help, sometimes with the headmaster. Last year, for example, we prevented Alemtsehaye from getting married off. We also visit girls in the Girls Club with families in the neighborhood when we hear that they are planning a child marriage. We then try to convince the parents of the harmful consequences of such an early marriage. In this way we have already been able to convince ten families from our village and thus prevent child marriages. In the Girls Club we fortunately not only discuss problems, but also share nice news with each other. And we make future plans together. In this way Alemtsehaye wants to find a job later that will help her to find a better position for women and girls! ”
Menstruation and child marriages
In many schools, girls who are having their period have no clean place where they can change: there are no good toilets or sinks. And they don’t have a sanitary pad because it’s too expensive. Having your period is therefore messy, annoying and embarrassing. Sometimes girls walk home between classes to change. But many girls live too far from school to do that. The result: menstruating girls prefer to stay at home and miss a week of school every month. And while education is one of the best ways to prevent child marriages: the longer a girl is in school, the later she gets married.
Make a sanitary pad
Because sanitary pads are often too expensive for the girls and are therefore forced to stay at home during their period, the Girls Clubs have started making sanitary pads. Alemeshet: “I taught the girls how to turn leftover fabric into sanitary pads. That way they can still come to school when they have their period. There are 80 girls members of the Girls Clubs, and they now all make their own sanitary pads. We also plan to sell sanitary pads. There are at least 500 girls in this school, so there are enough customers. It is also a good way to earn income. So that we can continue with the Girls Club without financing from The Hunger Project. ”
Extracurricular lessons about sex and relationships
Since Her Choice has been active at the three schools, lessons have been given on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Four teachers followed training at each school, and the school principal first trained. For example, Alemeshet took the five-day training course together with director Eshete Gmechu: “I have decided that our school should participate in the program because I want to reduce the number of girls who leave school early. A part of this is the Girls Club, but sexual education is also an important part. The lessons are very useful for both girls and boys. We deal with issues such as equal rights for men and women and the importance of preventing child marriage and female genital mutilation. ”
“We still had to convince the parents. Certainly because the lessons are given after school, not all parents were equally enthusiastic. Many parents want their child to come home after school to help. Not all parents liked the subject of the lessons either. But we were able to convince most of the usefulness of these lessons. Fortunately, because we see that the boys take a different attitude to girls and women through the lessons. It is now more natural for them to divide the duties fairly later in their marriage. And they say they will not marry a young girl later. That is profit! ”
Poverty as a reason for child marriage
Another important part of the approach to prevent child marriages is to improve the income of families. Makdas Ashanafi works for The Hunger Project in North Shoha and explains: “It can be a source of income for poor families to marry a daughter. Because the in-laws pay a dowry to the parents of the bride. When a family needs money, it can be very tempting to marry a daughter. Moreover, it is also a mouth less to feed. ”
“With our income-generating activities, families can increase their income. We have trained animators who set up microcredit committees at their fairs in the villages. The animators not only provide microloans, they also provide entrepreneurial advice on the most promising activities.”
The animators also start discussions in their villages about child marriages. They were first extensively trained for this. Makdas: “The animators have attended eight training sessions this year on various topics. Next year we will start training again with a new group of animators. In the villages we bring together all important parties: religious leaders, police officers, teachers, nurses, employees of the local government and the animators. They meet once a month to discuss and prevent topics such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and child labor. ”
The entire village is participating
Birtuka Sifeta is one of the animators. She has been active in her village for one year, is a member of the microcredit committee and organizes village discussions. “I have become an animator because I want to end child marriages. Because by getting married early, girls quit school and early pregnancies can cause them health problems. To get on with our village and even with our country, girls must be able to finish their school. That is my goal for my village. I have learned a lot in the past year in the training courses, for example about setting up a microcredit program. In my village, people use microcredit, for example, to raise chickens or cows, or to invest in growing vegetables. It improves the income situation of many families, hopefully making them less likely to choose a child marriage. ”
“What I also learned in the training courses is to make difficult topics negotiable. I participate in monthly meetings with, among others, religious leaders, police officers and teachers. We discuss these topics there. Such as that birth registration must be performed better. Because often we don’t know exactly how old a girl is, which means she can wrongly pass on as an adult. We agreed that the real age of a girl should be checked in the hospital for a marriage. Of course, it is forbidden by law to marry minors. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. ”
“In this region, people listen better to the religious leaders than to the police. That is why it is so important to involve religious leaders. If they also say that a child cannot be married off, it will have much more impact than if it is prohibited by law. Just as it has great effect when priests refuse to bless a child marriage. Fortunately that happens more and more often in our village. I myself was married at the age of 17, but I didn’t marry off my daughters as a child. They were allowed to finish their school. ”
Government also cooperates
According to UNICEF figures, Ethiopia is in 15th place worldwide when it comes to the number of child marriages. Forty percent of the girls marry before the age of 18 and 14 percent even marry before the age of 15. Child brides are the youngest in the Afar and Amhara regions. Good reason for The Hunger Project to be active in the Amhara region with Her Choice. According to many, the Ethiopian government has done far too little to tackle this problem. But in August 2019, the government launched an ambitious plan to ban child marriage and female genital mutilation. Over the next five years, the government will make $ 93 million available for information campaigns and data collection. Maknas from The Hunger Project Ethiopia is pleased with this government support. “Together we must put an end to child marriage and female genital mutilation. The sooner the better!”
In 2018, AISSR / UvA carried out a midline evaluation in collaboration with independent local researchers. Data was collected in 10 countries from 5,204 girls, 3,261 households, 68 health centers and 145 teachers. Read more about the Midline Report here.