A Ray of Hope for Survivors of Early Marriage

A Ray of Hope for Survivors of Early Marriage

Publication info

Nigist Abraha, Communications Advisor, CARE Ethiopia

Married at a tender age of 12, Yenguse Chekole is now a 17 year old girl. She wears a full smile when speaking about the changes she and her group members are experiencing today. Being in a group of 20 girls who all look inspired and hopeful for a better future, Yenguse knows that what she gained from the project has already helped her to open her eyes and has boosted her confidence to deal with life better. “I knew nothing before. Let alone to come to a gathering like this and speak publicly. I never said hello to these friends in front of me, even if our paths crossed once in a while. Now we are more than friends; we share all what we have” says Yenguse.

These groups of young married girls have had something in common; they were once confined in a small world of their own. They were not allowed to talk freely to others, even their peers next door. Because, if they did socialize with others, it literally meant that they were looking for someone other than their husbands. Girls are not allowed to speak loudly either, as it is considered to be a disregard to the others. The mother-in-law is mostly the watch dog.  Today, these same groups of young girls have another thing in common; a ray of hope.

They all have lists of positive changes to innumerate: from personal usage of family planning, to knowing their rights and making decisions over their resources. They also noticed positive changes in their socialization and communication skills which lead to acquiring negotiation skills and income generating/business skills.

“I have learned how to create harmony with my husband, the importance of hygiene and sanitation, gender equality and decision making in the household. I also seek health care whenever I need it.  For your information, I have started using family planning now,” She noted. In fact, I was more surprised to see all the 20 hands raised as I asked the group if they were using family planning. When I asked Yenguse why she was using family planning now and not before, she said they got the information on the benefits but her husband and her mother-in-law were against it. He used to say “What the hell is family planning? Bring a son sooner so that he can help us with taking care of our livestock.” recalled Yenguse, who is currently a mother of one.  However, after getting involved in the discussion and a deeper education, she learned that she can be a healthy mother and can provide good care to her children if they have a proper family size and good spacing in between.

Like Yenguse, Endework Alelign also says that her husband used to beat her whenever her mother-in-law told him something negative about her. “My husband and I quarreled often. We used to say ‘who cares about the marriage’ and divorce used to come as the primary solution. Now, there is tolerance between us. When he is angry, I remain calm and I will discuss it  with him when he is calm. We can negotiate. We have learned the skills of creating a good relationship, socialization and harmony.” 

Unlike the past, her husband helps her with cooking and taking care of the baby whenever she does other chores. “This time, we respect each other. He even feels guilty saying that he had been oppressing me to this day. I used to hate my mother-in-law but now I have started to like her. I see that what we needed was to understand each other better,” she added. 

Speaking of her future plans, “I want to go back to school” says Endework with determination.  She quit her education in the 3rd grade when she got married.  She is a mother of a year old daughter and she and her husband plan to pursue education with their parents support for their child’s care. She said that land is becoming smaller and smaller in size and life is becoming harder so they need to change their way of living through education and engaging in alternative livelihood mechanisms like income generating activities.  

“After getting involved in this project a year ago, I have started going back to school, thanks to TESFA project,” says Yeshialem Mulugeta, who now is turning 18. She was in grade 7 when she got married at the age of 13. She was forced to stop her education and have children instead after her marriage. “My mother in law used to tell my husband that I would leave him if I got educated.”

The change has also been realized because the husbands, the mother-in-laws and other gate keepers in the community are all involved in the discussion forum of the Social Analysis and Action (SAA). The SAAs are a group of individuals selected by the community to work hand in hand with CARE Ethiopia’s TESFA (Towards Improved Economic and Sexual/Reproductive Health Outcomes for Adolescent Girls) project. With funding from the Nike foundation, TESFA focuses on enhancing the economic and Sexual Reproductive health (SRH) outcomes of adolescent girls in South Gondar Zone of the Amhara region.

As one of the objectives of the project is research, the girls groups are organized in to three categories: SRH, village saving and loan association (VSLA) and combined groups (SRH and VSLA). What is interesting about this SRH group is that with their own initiative, they have started saving a small amount of money as a kind of social fund. With this money, they support each other during sickness, birth and other social issues. They also intend to expand their savings and do business in the future. 

The shade seems to be uncovered, giving a glimmer of hope to these married young girls. All the girls have similar stories to tell and common issues to tackle. They all aspire for a better and improved future by going back to school and doing income generating activities in addition to farming. They are young and lucky enough that much of their time is awaiting ahead of them to change themselves and their world.