This blog was originally posted on World Pulse, a media network powered by women from 190 countries that lifts and unites women’s voices to accelerate their impact for the world. World Pulse is a member of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.
My grandfather was exposed to education in his days as a village head and village judge. His gift of wisdom took him around and outside our community to judge and decide matters concerning his people and others. My grandfather vowed to send his male children to school. Before I was born, my parents left our community to live in the city, which gave my siblings and I a better opportunity at education and exposure.
My family’s village is in a hilly terrain, which makes it disadvantaged in terms of infrastructure – socially, economically, and politically. The Catholic Church brought the only existing health facility but often people in my community are too poor to access it, so they rely mostly on herbs and roots for most ailments.
The tradition of marrying off girls at a very young age is common in my community. It restricts their bright future. These girls often end their education and their potential is unharnessed, so they end up like their parents – illiterate and poor.
Why some in my community marry off their daughters as children? They don’t see education as a way to a brighter future
Most of my peers got married after primary school because many in my community do not see education as a way to a brighter future. Poverty is a reason too. Most of those who proceeded to secondary school could not finish because of funds. The majority of their parents are illiterate and subsistent farmers.
My organisation has designed programmes for these girls and women on human rights and women’s rights and provides access to adult education. The programmes also expose them to different skills to empower them economically and to help them improve their self confidence, self esteem and expose them to sex education.
Family planning for those who can’t abstain: child brides
A lack of family planning adds to the problems girls and women face in my community, where women can have as many as 8 or 9 children. They are not exposed to reproductive health education and counselling. That is why we have also integrated family planning counselling in our programmes for those within child bearing age. For those who cannot abstain (this is often the case for child brides who find it difficult to assert their wishes with their husband) the use of condoms is emphasised.
Our culture’s lack of respect for women forms part of the reason why young girls cannot access education. Girl children are seen as nothing, therefore when opportunities of going to school are available, it is always the boys who are favoured. Male children are tutored from the onset of their importance in the society whereas girls are only taught how to manage homes and be submissive to their husbands.
To sum up, the greatest challenge of young girls in accessing education is poverty (economic constraints) and culture – which offer early marriage as the only and best option for them. The impact of these barriers mean that my community lags behind.