Evelyn’s story, Liberia

Evelyn’s story was kindly shared by our member ActionAid.

Evelyn Flomo is a farmer from Grand Gedeh county in Liberia. Now 32 years-old with one child, Evelyn married when she was just 15. Here she recounts her life as a child bride and the struggle she has had to assert her wish to use family planning.

When Evelyn was growing up she decided she would like to have only two children. However, her husband had plans for a large family: “When we got together he told me he wanted 10 children. I also told him my plan but he said he is the man and his decision is what we will go by. I discussed it with him because I had my plans and having too many children can make women fall behind.

“When you have many children you have to spend more time working hard to support the children; you can’t spend time with your friends. If I had many children I would not be able to help women resolve their problems and participate in community work,” continues Evelyn. “The men leave all the burden on us yet they want plenty of children.”

Evelyn’s life as a child bride

Evelyn was married when she was only 15, and this affected her ability to make decisions in her marriage. “When we first got together, I suffered a lot because I didn’t have much idea about life. Anything he said I would do even if I didn’t want to. I would do all the work in the house and most of the work on the farm and he controlled my movements.

When we first got together, I suffered a lot because I didn’t have much idea about life.

Evelyn

“At times he locked me up in the house and would go out for the whole day. He changed a bit after he beat me and I miscarried twice. The doctors told him to allow me rest. The presence of the ActionAid Access to Justice project [which Evelyn is a part of] also helped to change the situation as it helped me to build my confidence and made me aware of my rights.”

However, as Evelyn explains, it is still difficult for her to make decisions about if, and when, she has sexual intercourse with her husband. “Our men are still making the decisions. Most of the time when we refuse they can force us and it can be hard for us to report.”

Evelyn, like other women and girls in her community, had little access to information about family planning and was afraid of using contraception. During ActionAid training she learnt about contraception and decided she wanted to use it. However, accessing contraception was not easy, particularly as her husband refused to allow her to use family planning.

“There is only one place and it is the hospital which is so far away, and you have to pay transport costs to get there. Even at the hospital there are not many nurses and they are sometimes unavailable…The nurses demand us to bring our husbands before attending to us.”

“I secretly talked to a nurse and she provided treatment from her house,” continues Evelyn. “I started with the pill but it was difficult because I had to take it without my husband knowing. I had to keep the pill at my friend’s place and go there every day to take it. When my husband noticed, he left me. I begged and managed to convince him to return. I stopped the pills and took the injection but it did not make me feel well, so then I tried an implant. We are together now but I am worried about when he finds out.”

Change is happening, but it is slow

“Before ActionAid came into the community we didn’t talk back to the men but things have changed a bit. Some men are now listening to their wives and women have increased confidence to speak out in public.”

“However, men are still making decisions about having children,” says Evelyn. “We need to have a programme for men to understand the need for family planning and stop making women have so many children.”

ActionAid says:

Evelyn’s experience shows us that women and girls – including child brides – cannot always control whether, when or under what circumstances they have sex. They therefore need access to family planning services that are sensitive to their needs, such as contraception that does not require their husbands’ consent and can be kept private. Service providers also need to be trained in women’s rights, and encouraged to support women and girls to take control of their own sexual and reproductive health.

Specific support for women and girls’ empowerment is clearly needed. Given the widespread nature of violence against women and girls, programmes that directly tackle violence are essential. Programmes that build everyone’s awareness of women’s rights and support women and girls to claim these rights, for example by ensuring they are able to speak out about problems, are vital.

Sexual health and domestic violence – the case of child brides:

  • Child brides are vulnerable to domestic violence. Girls who are married before 18 are more likely to report being beaten by their husbands and forced to have sex than girls who marry later.
  • Almost 45% of women aged 20-49 report being married by the time they are 18 in Liberia; over 14% by the time they are 15.
  • In Liberia, about 1 in 7 women who first had sex before they were 15 report the experience was forced.
  • Liberia is in post-conflict transition, having witnessed unprecedented levels of sexual violence against women during its recent 15-year war.
  • Just under half of women who have ever been married report they have experience violence from their husbands or other intimate partner in Liberia.

Read ActionAid’s new report “Sex, Choice and Control: the reality of family planning for women and girls today”

Take action:
Find out how you can support ActionAid’s work to help girls vulnerable to early marriage and women like Evelyn.