Economic empowerment and child marriage: lessons from Nigeria

Girls participating in the IWEI's income generating workshops. Photo credit: IWEI

The Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) is meeting for the 61st time in New York this week to review progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Representatives from organisations across the world will meet to discuss women’s economic empowerment, especially in light of the Sustainable Development Goals. Child marriage must be part of the discussion.

1/Poverty is a major driver of child marriage

Across the developing world, more than half of girls from the poorest households are married before 18. In fact, girls from poor families are 3 times more likely to become child brides than girls from the richest.

2/Child marriage disempowers women and girls economically

Marriage often means an end to a girl’s education at a young age. Child brides rarely learn the skills they need to take up paid work. Married girls also take on unpaid care work – looking after their husbands, children and sometimes in-laws. Without an income of their own, child brides depend on their husband and are often unable to leave the marriage

3/Child marriage hinders the prosperity of countries and communities

Child marriage doesn’t just impact girls. When half of the potential workforce in a country is unable to contribute to economic activity, society as a whole suffers.

4/Empowering women and girls is key to ending child marriage

If girls stay in school and out of marriage they can learn the skills to join the workforce and lift themselves out of poverty. Economic empowerment will not only increase their individual income, it will have ripple effects for their families, communities and countries.

In Nigeria, for instance, Girls Not Brides member Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative enrols girls in income-generating workshops as a way of preventing child marriage.

43% of girls in Nigeria are married before the age of 18. In the north of the country, however, rates can be as high as 76%. Child marriage in Nigeria is driven by a mix of factors: poverty, poor education and strong social and religious traditions.

Some parents complain that the quality of schools is so poor that education is not a viable alternative to marriage for their daughters.

It is in this difficult context that the Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative has set up an economic empowerment programme to keep girls out of marriage. The workshops teach adolescent girls how to make and sell products on one condition: they have to be in school.

Here is how it works:

Girls enrol in the workshops to learn skills needed in the community. For example, rice production is an important industry in Kano, so one group of girls is learning how to process and package rice. They are then encouraged to sell it to members of the community after school.

Girls making sanitary towels in Kano 2016. Photo credit: IWEI

Photo credit: IWEI

Another group of girls learn how to make reusable sanitary towels and sells them to other girls and women. They also give to their peers to sell on commission. With the money they generate, girls can buy their own school books and contribute to their families’ income. Producing sanitary towels also has benefits for the girls that buy them by enabling them to attend school on the days when they have their periods.

In the short term, Isa Wali’s economic empowerment programme  gives parents an incentive to keep them their daughters in school and unmarried. In the long term, girls learn valuable skills that will help them thrive.

This is just one example of how economic empowerment programmes contribute to preventing child marriage. For more examples, read our brief: “Taking action to address child marriage: the role of different sectors – Economic growth and workforce development.”

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