Hairdresser not bride: making a living in Malawi’s biggest refugee camp
“We have some appointments booked for this afternoon. I usually get one or two customers a day,” says Yelina.
Life in Malawi’s biggest refugee camp
Life in the camp is tough – especially for girls. They are often forced into early marriage or prostitution to survive.
Child marriage has been rising at an alarming rate in humanitarian settings. Families often see child marriage as a way to cope with economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. In Dzaleka, many girls are forced into marriage at 13 or 14 years old.
A year ago, Yelina was considering early marriage herself.
Yelina’s mother abandoned her as a child after she separated from her father.
“Now I live with my father, my stepmother and her four children. I don’t even have a picture of my mum,” she says.
“My stepmother doesn’t want me there. She doesn’t treat me well.” Her life at home had become unbearable.
“I thought that getting married would be a way to get away. It was the only choice I had left.”
Vocational training for girls in the camp
In Dzaleka, refugees are not allowed to work for a salary. Poverty also drives many families to marry their daughters in exchange for a dowry.
“But refugees are allowed to start businesses inside the camp,” says Neema, a refugee from DRC who volunteers for SOFERES.
“So we teach girls the skills they need to do hairdressing or tailoring, so that they can earn a living and be independent. We also teach girls about their rights.”
“A lot of girls are forced into marriage because they don’t realise they can say no.”
Economic empowerment through a hairdressing salon
“If there is someone hearing what I’m saying now, I would suggest to them to study rather than getting married.”