Girls’ Club Rescues Girls from Child Marriage in Rural Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

ZIGEM WOREDA, AMHARA REGION, 06 OCTOBER 2017 – “I went to the police station when my parents told me that I am getting married,” says Mestawet Mekuria,14, a 7th grader in Ayti Primary School, Amhara region, northern Ethiopia. She is also among 20 girl students who have been rescued from getting married in the school.

“I had learned about child marriage and its consequences in our school’s girls’ club. I told my parents that I do not want to get married. But they refused, and that is when I ran to the police station.”

Mestawet went to the police assuming that her parents will only be warned seriously. But it was much more than that. Her parents were arrested and imprisoned for two weeks for violating the law.

“I was sad when they were arrested but they refused to listen to me.”

International Day of the Girl Child 2017- Child Marriage
Mestawet Mekurya, 14, 7th grade student at Ayti Primary School, Zigem, Amhara region. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

Child marriage, a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is prevalent across all regions of Ethiopia. According to the 2011 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS), Amhara region has the second highest rate of child marriage, 56 per cent, next to Benishangul-Gumuz region which has 58.

Although, Mestawet’s parents were angry for what happened to them, later they made peace with her through a mediation which was led by village elders. “My parents now understand about child marriage and its consequences. They are no longer angry with me,” says Mestawet.

Child marriage often perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty. When girls get married at early age, their prospects for a healthy and successful life will be at stake. Evidence shows that girls who marry early are less likely to finish school and more likely to be victims of domestic violence and abuse. In addition, young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s.

Girls’ clubs making a big impact

Strengthening girls’ club as part of the accelerated effort to end child marriage in  Zigem woreda, Amhara region was initiated in 2015 by the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA) through support from UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.

The ending child marriage programme focuses on enhancing the capacity of girls through providing life skill training, information about their rights and available services as well as enhancing the responsiveness of schools and legal services. It also targets families and communities to change their attitude towards ending the practice and show support to alternative life options for girls such as their education.

International Day of the Girl Child 2017- Child Marriage
“Because we have been part of the girls club, we have rescued a girl from marrying this man her family knew” (Left to right) Mekdes Degnew, Ayehush Abera and Tigist Seyoum, 14 © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

Girls’ clubs are established with the aim of preventing and mitigating school based and community based barriers to girls’ education. The clubs are making a difference in reducing child marriage by empowering girls through life skills trainings. The clubs particularly focus on engaging girls between 5th-8th grades as these represent the age group most commonly affected by child marriage.

According to Abebe Adamu, one of the trainers from Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, 106 girls were rescued from getting married in 2016 and 55 girls last year. “The community is currently aware that child marriage is harmful,” he says. “Students are also more aware of their rights to reject any marriage proposal coming to them against their will.”

Wubayehu Tilahun, girls’ club coordinator and a teacher at Ayti Primary School is pleased with the girls’ club performance. “Seeing my students continue their education gives me a great pleasure. Here in Ayti, we have rescued 20 girls from marriage in the past two years, and we will continue to be fighting against this harmful practice.”

Even though girls’ clubs are currently promoting change in schools where they are active, there are still many challenges.  “Budget constraints hinders the effort to expand the exemplary role that the clubs are making in schools and communities,” says Abebe. “We have many primary schools that do not have such a functional structure like Ayti and we need more support,” he added.

Nationally, the Government of Ethiopia has made a commitment to end child marriage by 2025 through enhanced coordination, budget allocation, accountability mechanism and availability of data. The establishment of a National Alliance to End Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is another significant stride in the effort to end child marriage as it has been key in coordinating interventions.

UNICEF supports the Government’s effort by strengthening the coordination mechanisms at different levels. Additionally, UNICEF is supporting the implementation of a multi-sectoral programmes in six regions: Amhara, Afar, Somali, Oromia, Gambella and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples region. The programme includes social mobilization to change attitudes and strengthen collective community action to end the practice. It also focuses on improving enforcement of the existing legal frameworks.

To further strengthen and accelerate efforts to end child marriage and other harmful traditional practices and to bring about the necessary societal shifts in communities, UNICEF has also established strategic partnership with major faith based and civil society organizations.

“Child marriage is a harmful practice, and I want girls to continue with their education like me,” says Mestawet. “I have seen my classmates quit school because they are married. I always tell my friends in my village about child marriage, and I will continue to do so to others”.

Mestawet wants to become either a doctor or a teacher. It might be years before she realizes her dreams but in the meantime, she keeps protecting girls in her village, including her own younger sister, from getting married early.

Ethiopia to run united to create the future we want

United Nations banner for UN at 70
United Nations banner for UN at 70 at the launching of Great Ethiopia Run’s Plan International Ethiopia children races and Running for a Cause campaign, Addis Ababa Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Sewunet

The UN turns 70 this year. The UN agencies in Ethiopia are preparing for the historic moment to celebrate the achievements of the organisation while recommitting itself to support the country in tackling problems associated with, poverty, education, health, children, refugees, conflict prevention and climate change. As part of the celebration the UN is partnering with the Great Ethiopian Run to stage an annual run with a theme “Unite to create the future we want” in which 40,000 people are expected to participate. The annual running carnival is Africa’s biggest 10km race and it continues to attract more people around the world each year. Representing the UN, George Okutho, United Nations Resident Coordinator (a.i.) speaking today at the launching of Plan International Ethiopia children races and Running for a Cause campaign said, “sport is a vehicle for development and we view our partnership as an important means of getting our message across to a wider audience and hence, encouraging positive change in Ethiopia.”

A girl stands in the crowd wearing 2015 GER childrens race t-shirt
A girl stands in the crowd wearing 2015 GER children’s race t-shirt at the launching of Great Ethiopia Run’s Plan International Ethiopia children races and Running for a Cause campaign, Addis Ababa Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Sewunet

This year’s children race theme is “I Am A Girl Child Do Not Make Me A Child Mother.” In Ethiopia, one in every five girls and is prevalent across all the regions. In Amhara nearly half of the girls are married before the age of 18.

As announced in June this year Haile Gebreselassie, the legendary long-distance track and road running athlete, will lead 40,000 participants as his last local race at the 15th edition of the Great Ethiopian Run taking place on Sunday 22 November 2015.

“I am running my last race here in Ethiopia and I would like to be a champion for ending a child marriage. In rural areas, the problem is still highly persistent.” Relating to his own life, Haile said, “My mother had me when she was 14 and this has to stop.”

The UN in Ethiopia supports the Great Ethiopian Run annually not only to promote important social messages but also to raise funds to charities. Under the annual official fundraising campaign “Running for a Cause”, the UN and Great Ethiopian Run target to raise 1.4 million birr this year. The fund will be used for social protection and welfare programmes run by local charities that are selected by the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs. The UN also worked with the Great Ethiopian Run to organise regional races in the regional capitals to promote the MDG goals and will continue to promote the new post MDG, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Including high officials from partners, renowned personalities including, Chachi Tadesse, Seleshi Demissie (Gash Abera Molla) and Nibret Gelaw (Eke) stressed the importance of running for a cause and pledged to support the UN, the Great Ethiopian Run and partners in their humanitarian work.

Empowering Girls – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!

As part of the Guardian interactive article for the 25th anniversary of UN convention on the rights of the child, we asked children across the country what rights were most important to them. Presented with a child-friendly version of the convention, this is what they had to say.

For the International Women’s Day celebration we selectively pictured the girls.

 Interactive Gallery, click on each image to enlarge and read story. 

 

How can we redefine the world’s view to make the case for protecting girls?

My reflections on the Girl Summit, July 2014 
By Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia 

Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador for Ethiopia, speaking at Girl Summit 2014
Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia, speaking at Girl Summit 2014 ©Marisol Grandon/DFID

The Girl Summit was a forum designed and hosted by the UK Government and UNICEF, to mobilize all world efforts to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and end child, early and forced marriage in my generation. It openly discussed issues of gender inequity and disparity and challenged public and non-profit sector leaders to create innovative solutions and commitments at the Summit. Closing this event was a surreal experience, and an absolute honour. When representing any demographic, there is a certain amount of responsibility to present the absolute truth of the issue. In this particular event, I had the incredible opportunity to echo the voices of the many girls around the world taking action in response to the calls to end the endless challenges for girls in education, health and the community, which further perpetuated harmful traditional practices. #Youthforchange hosted by UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening and Home Secretary Theresa May exemplified that spirit of change by having a youth-focused audience and engaging programmes. Important strategies such as school outreach were discussed, including a competition honouring schools that creatively used media as a method of presenting these vital issues.

It was then up to the many public leaders at the Girl Summit to respond. We heard from UK Prime Minister David Cameron, girl activists like Malala Yousafzai and various NGO’s to answer questions on financing for girls, ensuring equal access to education, and protection from FGM/C and child marriage. There were also discussions with likes of Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF and Deputy Minister of Ethiopia- H.E Ato Demeke Mekonnen. All who participated in the discussion recognized protecting girls was not only the right thing to do, but critical to our global future. Ending off the day in the closing plenary allowed me to re-state the importance for girl involvement and engagement in these discussions, to ensure girl voices are represented around the world.

Hannah Godefa, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, speaking at  Youth For Change
Hannah Godefa, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, speaking at Youth For Change ©Russell Watkins/DFID

As we all know, discussions among the public and private leaders are not enough. When we have the opportunity to make a difference anywhere, we should seize it, however special attention should be given to the issues girls face, as they are the foundation of our future. It is all in the facts: empowered and protected girls are able to form their families and communities and better contribute to our world socially and economically. The dialogue exercised at the Girl Summit cannot end there. It must manifest into commitments, be implemented into action and support this movement of rising girls around the world. Only then will we start to see a change in the way the world values girls. Girls are the mothers, community leaders and advocates of today. It all starts with a promise to champion for girls everywhere. If the way we view ourselves shapes our future, and our perspective influences how we invest our resources, the most important question is: how can we redefine the world’s view to make the case for protecting girls?

Leading Ethiopian Women Dialogue with Students

This story originally appeared on UN in Ethiopia website

The International Women’s Day event at the Faculty of Business and Economics Campus was organized by the UN Communication Group in collaboration with the Addis Ababa University (AAU) Gender Office and attracted high level female panellists from the arts, business, legal, international organisations and civic engagement actors.

The panel discussion helped young women and men from various faculties of Addis Ababa University to have a chance to interact and dialogue with some of the leading women figures in the country. In addition, the event helped to build youth consciousness towards women’s role in development, social welfare and overall human progress, taking the Ethiopian context into perspective.

Panellists shared their experiences and personal stories of struggles and triumphs to break through barriers to achieve the leadership roles in their area of expertise.

Moderating the discussion, Ms Nahu Senay Girma, Founder and Executive Director of the Association of Women in Business (AWIB) Ethiopia, urged the young youth who attended the discussion to ‘actively participate by asking questions and in general, to always grab opportunities to network’ such as the panel discussion.

Networking
Young women network with Ms Birtukan, Vice President at Enat Bank & Ms Aster, Founder of Tsehaye Zewde Memorial Foundation after the panel discussion

Ms. Birtukan Gebregzi, Vice President of Enat Bank outlined gaps existing in access to finance for women in Ethiopia, often disadvantaged by factors such as lack of ownership of property and land. She stated that being the first bank to be set up by women in Ethiopia, there has been an encouraging growth in numbers of women clients, standing at ‘65%’ however, compared to their male counterparts, ‘women often take lower loans and hence the increment in female clients is more of numerical than financial gain nature’.

Advising the young students to ‘follow their passion and have strong self-belief’, Ms Desta Hagos, one of Ethiopia’s first female artists, who is planning her 50th exhibition this month, also urged the students to ‘not be afraid to pursue dreams but in a focused manner’.

The regional and continental perspective of women empowerment were shared by Ms Aster Zaoude, former regional director of UNIFEM for West Africa, and founder of the Tsehaye Zaoude Foundation supporting visually impaired female students at AAU. She urged the students to ‘work together and build solidarity’ to address issues faced by girls and women.

Ms Zenaye Tadesse, Managing Director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association encouraged the students to learn about rights while Ms Chachi Tadesse, performer and activists for street children cautioned the participants against a ‘poverty mentality’ that lets thoughts of scarcity translate to physical barriers.

Ms Engedaye Eshete, Chair of Ethiopian Women Entrepreneurs Association spoke of the opportunities opening up for women entrepreneurs and the linkages across the country that her association was establishing including for the disabled.

Selamawit Adugna, a youth activist and a gender and child protection officer for CHADET, urged the university students not to focus on negative issues and barriers but instead find their passion and look for opportunities. ‘There were days when I was doing a job that wasn’t that exciting and if I hadn’t had passion and vision I would not have gotten out of bed.’

The half day discussion reflected on various issues including the laws and policies enacted in the Ethiopian Constitution to create favourable conditions for women and the challenge remaining when it came to execution; deep rooted traditions and stereotypes that continue to impede progress.

The exciting dialogue between the panellists and the auditorium full of students highlighted building awareness in communities; engaging influential people to spearhead change to address attitude-based setbacks; recognizing that men are important partners in empowering women; and investing in building leadership capacities of women.