Saved from marriage with the help of the Girls Club in Ethiopia

Nov 27, 2019 | Inspiring Stories - Africa

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. By setting up Girls Clubs and making sanitary pads available, teenage girls can stay in school for as long as possible. Not only does this improve their chances of a better future, it also helps to prevent child marriage.

Alemtsehaye Kibbete, 16, walks at least 40 minutes from her home in the village of Kobeb Mesk to school every day. This is a considerable distance, especially when she has her period. She used to prefer walking home between classes to change herself because there were no good sanitary facilities at her school. That is why she often stayed at home when she had her period.

Alemtsehaye is very happy with the new ‘relax room’ at her school, which was created as part of the Her Choice initiative. “Here I can wash and change myself, or just rest if I need it. And here we make our own sanitary pads and underwear together with the other girls. Buying is too expensive for us and not an option.”

Talking freely about problems and future plans

Alemtsehaye secondary school has more than 1000 students, about half of whom are girls. Of these, 80 girls have joined the Girls Club. All girls like Alemtsehaye, have high hopes for their futures: “I would like to find a good job later, with which I can work on securing a better position for women and girls. And if I get married later, I want to share the care of our children with my husband. Isn’t that logical? By the way, I want a maximum of two children, which will be more manageable with my work. ”

The girls meet once a week in the Girls Club. Alemtsehaye is happy that she became a member. “We can freely talk here about personal problems and our plans for the future. It is nice to exchange experiences with other girls. We also try to give each other advice. And if we have questions, we can always contact our supervisor, Alemeshet. ”

Help from the Girls Club

Alemtsheya was able to ask the Girls Club for help when her parents wanted to marry her at the age of 15. “My mother suddenly found me a man. He wanted to marry me and he had a good income. My parents liked that. But I didn’t like that at all! I wanted to stay in school and learn a profession. But my parents didn’t want to listen to me.”

“I then asked for advice from Alemeshet, our Girls Club supervisor. She visited my family with someone from The Hunger Project. The headmaster also came to visit. After many conversations, they managed to convince my parents that it would be better if I could just finish my schooling. And the marriage has been cancelled. I’m still so happy about that! ”

Tradition repeats itself (or not)

Her mother, Ewawoye Zenebe, was married at the age of 10 and says: “My mother died when I was a baby. I was taken care of by family, who didn’t have it easy. That’s why they married me off at a very young age. I have had nine children with my husband. We only have a small piece of land where we grow sorghum and teff. We earn too little from those crops. That’s why my husband and I also work as day labourers on other farms, and I work as a bricklayer, building houses. ”

“I married off my oldest daughters quite young, that just seemed the best. When a good suitor came along for Alemtsheheya, I didn’t hesitate. He had a good job and I just want the best for my children. A rich man can give her more than me. But Alemtsheya refused to marry. Everyone in my neighbourhood thought she should get married.”

“Alemtsheya kept refusing and sent her teacher and school director to see us. They convinced me that it’s better for Alemtsheya to finish school and that she can earn a good income later on. They also said that it is harmful for girls to have children so young. I knew all about it myself, of course. I thought for a long time. I understand that it is better if Alemtsheya can keep going to school. With a better education, she can have a better future. I myself never had the chance to go to school, which I have always found to be a shame. In the end, we cancelled the marriage. I’ve also decided that Alemtsheya’s younger sisters won’t marry young. I am proud that my daughters can continue learning!”

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Photos: Johannes Odé