Keeping the Tradition
Despite the rocky beginning to her own marriage when she was 12, Endayehu seriously considered getting her own daughters married as children to “maintain a good image” for her family. Find out why, and what changed her mind.
When Endayehu was 12, in the 6th grade, her wealthy father decided that he needed a young man’s labor to support the work on his own farm. The easiest way for him to get that was to marry off his daughter and have her husband do the work. From that moment, Endayehu’s life changed completely. She had never met her new husband, and she remembers that when she was taken to start living with him she refused and repeatedly escaped to her parent’s house. She was so distressed that she even attempted to commit suicide a couple of times. Fortunately, she didn’t succeed. After she gave birth to her first born, things settled down for her, and she has lived with her husband ever since.
Now Endayehu is a mother of five, with four daughters and one son. Despite the rocky beginning to her own marriage, Endayehu seriously considered getting her own daughters married as children, to keep the established tradition. She wanted to “maintain a good image” for her family. This happens all over the world for millions of families. In fact, if current rates hold, 140 million girls will get married under 18 between 2011 and 2020, almost all of them in families where their mothers also married as children. When you talk to women who are considering marrying their daughters as children, most of them can tell you their own horror stories of getting married as children—the fear and confusion, the shock of losing their childhoods overnight. But they still agree to get their own daughters married young, often because that is simply how a respectable family behaves.
Everyone has felt the power of needing to keep up the image that society expects of us. What counts as the right image changes, but the power of the standard is real for everyone. For some of us, that means dressing the right way, having the right kind of job, and going to the right schools. For every parent, it means raising your kids according to certain standards. For Endayehu, and millions of women like her, it means making sure your daughters get married young.
The beauty of needing the “right image” is that the image can change. All over the world, we see examples of social change where people decide a different image works for them. For Endayehu, what counted as the right image changed.
She joined a group in her village through CARE’s TESFA project, where she got a chance to learn a lot about early marriage and its consequences. The project focused on working with communities to examine the consequences of early marriage, and how the “right image” of a girl married young might not be right for the community anymore—a process CARE calls Social Analysis and Action (SAA). It was easy for Endayehu to relate with the discussions, since she has a clear memory of the suffering she had to endure when she was forced into early marriage. Now, she is determined to fight for her daughters not to face those challenges due to early and forced marriage. Endayehu has become a champion in her village, where she teaches the community about ending child marriage, and willingly testifies her own life story so people can understand better.
Endayehu says she the life skills training she received through TESFA is helping her negotiate with her family and friends to make them accept her participation in the project and as a champion against early marriage. She also says that it helped her be a better mother and lead her family more wisely. Endayehu has also started using a family planning method after her participation in the program, to limit her family size and better manage her family.
Endayehu isn’t the only one to see changes. The district women’s affairs office selected her to be the gender activist for her village, so now she has the responsibility of facilitating discussions on gender related issues. Endayehu continues as she tries to help girls and women in her community live their lives free from violence through her engagement in different endeavors. Endayehu believes that the image can change, and she is determined to make that happen.
About the Project: For the TESFA project, CARE partnered with the International Center for Research on Women, Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara, and the Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia to reach more than 5000 child brides in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. To learn more about TESFA, visit www.care.org/TESFA. You can read more about CARE’s work on child marriage at www.care.org/childmarriage.
About the Author: Dr Feven Tassew is a medical doctor with more than nine years of public health program management experience in Ethiopia. She is a trained physician from Jimma University and a public health expert with MPH from University of Innsbruck, Austria. As the SRH program coordinator of CARE Ethiopia. Dr Feven works with the Sexual, Reproductive, and Maternal Health team at CARE USA, and is based in Addis Ababa.