Tag Archives: education
Like 90 percent of the houses in Kagati village in the Kathmandu Valley, the one belonging to Niruta and Durga collapsed during the April 25 earthquake.
But the young couple is fortunate.
They survived the quake and violent aftershocks that flattened villages like theirs, killed nearly 9,000 people and injured 23,000 in Nepal this spring. And while nearly a half-million people were displaced, Niruta and Durga have shelter: each night, they huddle with their three small children in what used to be their cow shed.
Niruta was 14 years old, nine months pregnant and about to be married when she was first photographed in January 2007 by Too Young to Wed founder Stephanie Sinclair. Durga was only 17.
During a visit with Sinclair last year, both parents insisted that their own children would get an education and avoid early marriage, but that was before Nepal’s worst natural disaster in more than 80 years left the village’s school unsafe and family budgets stretched thinner than ever. Nepal already has one of the world’s highest child marriage rates – 41 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys are married before their 18th birthday – and humanitarian organizations warn that number could climb as families struggle to recover from the earthquake.
A portion of the proceeds from Too Young to Wed’s first print sale, extended through September 22 due to high demand, will be used to help Niruta and Durga rebuild their home and Kagati village restore its school. Though the school has been deemed structurally unsafe, many of its 560 students continue to gather there, desperate for shelter and an education.
Among them are Niruta’s 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. Another daughter, born just before the quake, stays with Niruta and Durga during the day while they toil on the family’s farm.
“I am committed to sending my children to school,” Durga told Sinclair last year. “I want them to study as much as they can. Whatever I am doing, I am doing for them now. If they don’t study, they will become like us – or worse. We both work 12 to 13 hours a day, with just a two-hour rest, and then take care of our family. We have no days off.”
In Kagati village, the average age of marriage for girls had steadily risen from 12 to 15 in recent years. But the condition of the school and the economic hardships imposed by the quake threaten to reverse that progress.
Reestablishing the school as a safe haven is particularly important when it comes to reducing child marriage. According to CREHPA, a Nepalese group that campaigns against child marriage, girls who can’t attend school are considered more vulnerable to rape or trafficking. As a result, their parents may feel pressure to marry them off as a means of keeping them safe. Unfortunately, their early marriages often expose them to greater dangers, including complications from pregnancy, the leading cause of death among 15-to-19-year-old girls in developing countries.
Chakraman Shreshta Balami, a teacher at the village school, told Sinclair that he and other local teachers established a club aimed at educating parents and children about the dangers of early marriage and the importance of school. Progress has been slow, he said, but more families are pushing their children into the classroom and keeping their daughters in school longer. And the children are empowered to speak for themselves, he said.
“We pressured families to allow the children to continue their studies, even interrupting wedding preparations at times,” said Balami, who himself was a young groom. “Now our approach has changed, and we have educated the children to say no to their marriages.”
Niruta, now 22, said she wants all her children, daughters included, to marry as adults—and only after they’ve finished their educations.
“If they want to study, I will let them study as much as they want,” she said. “I would like them to wait until they are 25 or 30 to get married, because if you get married [young], you will become useless like me.”
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An expansion of the Let Girls Learn initiative, announced this week by President and Michelle Obama, will give girls the world over greater access to education while amplifying their voices, increasing their earning potential, safeguarding their health and empowering them to avoid child marriage.
The effort, announced on Tuesday from the East Room of the White House—just five days before Sunday’s International Women’s Day celebration—builds on the Let Girls Learn global communication campaign. That campaign has generated more than $230 million in new funding to support girls’ education since USAID launched the initiative last summer.
The Peace Corps is the latest group to partner with Let Girls Learn, which has enjoyed the backing of a host of organizations, ranging from the Brookings Institute and Girl Scouts of the USA to CARE and the UN Foundation/Girl Up. With more than 7,000 volunteers in 60 developing countries, the Peace Corps is uniquely positioned to help communities develop grassroots solutions to the educational hurdles facing girls, Michelle Obama told a room full of supporters, including Too Young to Wed’s founder, Stephanie Sinclair.
Some 62 million girls around the world are not in school, diminishing their economic opportunities and political voices and leaving them vulnerable to child marriage, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS and other health risks, she said. According to USAID, one in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday in the developing world. However, girls with a high school level education are up to six times less likely to marry as children compared to girls who have little or no education.
“And as I’ve traveled the world over the past six years, I’ve seen time and again how our young people—particularly our girls—are so often pushed to the very bottom of their societies. Everywhere I go, I meet these girls, and they are so fiercely intelligent, and hungry to make something of themselves. These girls are our change-makers—our future doctors and teachers and entrepreneurs. They’re our dreamers and our visionaries who could change the world as we know it,” the First Lady said during her Tuesday address. “These girls know they have the spark of something extraordinary inside of them, but too often, that spark is snuffed out by circumstances of their birth or the norms of their communities.”
In addition to helping communities develop their own strategies, the Peace Corps eventually will offer training in gender issues and girls’ education to all of its volunteers, even those focused on other issues like healthcare and agriculture. And the organization will connect volunteers with members of the public and private sector to fund small, locally initiated projects.
In the first year of the collaboration, the Peace Corps will focus its efforts on 11 countries: Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso—where one-third of girls are married as children—Cambodia, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda, where 20 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthdays.
While this week’s announcement focused on the newest piece of the Let Girls Learn effort, President Obama also pointed out that the U.S. government supports plenty of existing programs designed to empower girls. Among them:
- A multi-media campaign in Guinea aimed at protecting girls from female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
- The Promoting Human Rights project in Bangladesh, which uses advocacy, role playing and games to address issues related to domestic violence, child marriage and sexual harassment. Community-based groups supported through the project are credited with stopping 382 child marriages in one year.
- A program in Ethiopia that provides school supplies for families that allow girls to get an education and even rewards those families with cattle if they keep their daughters unmarried. Girls between 10 and 14 who participated in the USAID project were 90 percent less likely to be married by the end of the two-year program, according to an early evaluation.
“We know that when girls are educated, they’re more likely to delay marriage. Their future children, as a consequence, are more likely to be healthy and better nourished. Their future wages increase, which, in turn, strengthens the security of their family. And national growth gets a boost, as well,” the president said Tuesday.
“From a political standpoint, and a security standpoint, places where women and girls are treated as full and equal citizens tend to be more stable, tend to be more democratic. So this is not just a humanitarian issue. This is an economic issue, and it is a security issue. And that’s why it has to be a foreign policy priority.”
By Amy Gigi Alexander
I arrived in Bihar for the first time in 2007. I’d been traveling and working in India, and when the opportunity came up to visit a Muslim village in Bihar, I hadn’t considered saying anything but yes. Bihar was off the radar for most tourists, being one of the country’s main centers of political strife and crushing economic woes.
We arrived by night, secretly. A 30-kilometer bus ride from the capital, followed by a Moto taxi in the darkness; we then walked seven kilometers across rice paddies and down dusty, rutted roads, until we reached the village.
A long, narrow strip of buildings made of mud, it seemed to be populated mostly by women and children. Most of the men had left and were working in large cities, returning only a few times a year. The men who were left were old, lame or in their 20s. Yet the women did not walk about freely that first night I arrived. Instead, they peered at me from slits in mud windows, watched from rooftops, or stealthily gathered in inner courtyards. So my first impression was simply of children: it was children who greeted me, children who guided us in the dark to my friends’ home, children who talked and asked questions.
It was children, too, who befriended me in the coming months, as my stay lengthened from a few days to weeks to months to half a year. Whenever I wanted to go out, a group of children was assigned to me. Being a woman, even a Western woman, I could not leave the compound of my friends’ family alone. Even with headscarf and a loose salwar kameez, I could not walk down the alleyway or rutted roads, explore the rice paddies or visit another local village. Women here did not go out. They stayed indoors, locked in tall, turreted mud towers, spending most of their lives isolated. When they felt a need to be out of doors, they climbed up to the rooftops of their homes, away from the calls and demands of the men. Here, they gathered, drinking endless cups of chai, balancing babies, hanging laundry.
Although I’d come for only a visit, I quickly learned that the girls of the village rarely went to school. There was public school, a burnt-out shell of a building that had been set on fire by protesters, leaving only a blackened, roofless concrete room. Girls sometimes attended the school, but only until about age 8, after which they were expected to help at home. The few girls I saw studying there had no notebooks, unlike the boys. I asked the male teacher why the girls had no supplies.
“Their parents do not buy them notebooks, as most of them cannot write and will not learn. The families have to choose between buying for the daughter or the son. Of course, they will buy what the son needs. He will provide income. The daughter only costs,” he replied.
On one of our morning walks, the children said they wanted to take me to a special place. We walked past the blue mosque, its rose-colored door, the flower garden, the small square, until we reached a big tree. We all sat in the shade, enjoying the luxury of being outside, free, yet close enough to the village to be safe. And under that tree is where the idea for an impromptu, informal school was born. Just for girls, after household chores so that all who wanted to could come – for free.
Word quickly spread, and that evening I was invited to a woman’s rooftop garden for chai. When I arrived, I was astonished to be greeted by a dozen women, all accompanied by daughters. Every woman wanted her daughter to go to the school under the tree. The women had no money of their own, so they could not buy slates or notebooks or pencils. They had no say over their daughters’ education, either; each had taken a risk to come to the rooftop that night. But one thing they all had was the deep desire that their daughters have choices.
They talked that night about how not going to school, not having an education, had impacted their lives. One woman wanted her daughter to go to school just to be able to do sums, because every time she went to the grocer’s, he shorted her money. Another mother wanted her daughter to be able to start a business with her, so that she’d have a little extra income, as her husband lived in Mumbai and rarely sent money. A very pregnant woman wanted her daughter to be able to read, so that she could read to her baby.
Said one mother, “Our daughters are told they don’t have to learn to read. They are only going to be like us, staying here until they marry or go to live with their husband’s family. My husband says they don’t need to know more than cooking pots and babies.”
And so the school began the following afternoon. From the first day, the turnout was surprising: more than 20 girls came, from age 5 to 14. As weeks passed, we fell into an easy routine. Sitting under the shade tree, the girls learned to write, sharing borrowed slates from their brothers. We’d meet after household chores, and some girls came with salwars still wet from mopping, or towing baby brothers and sisters. Halfway through, we’d switch to mathematics, beginning with simple sums for the youngest and finishing with geometry for the oldest. After a few hours, it was time for school to end and everyone to return home. But the girls always lingered, talking, laughing and asking me questions. It was the most open time I had in Bihar: the conversations ranged from Madonna to Bollywood to weddings.
Yes, weddings. Many of these girls were married, some as young as 7 years old. Although not called “marriage” due to child marriage being illegal in India, they were contractual agreements, with secret wedding ceremonies. The girls either remained with their parents until menstruation or adulthood, or sometimes were sent to live with their in-laws and “husband” as a household worker. I was surprised how easily the girls accepted this as part of life, as though they had no choice. To them, they were simply moving from household tasks in their family home to a different home. What worried them most was going to a new place: most of them had never been outside of the village in their lives. Some were worried about being beaten or terrified of their in-laws. A handful saw education as a way to raise their bride price or value.
Other girls had fought marriage at a young age, or had parents who financially could not afford the bride price. Now at age 14 and 16, they were terrified of being sent away to a man they had never met, never to return to their families. Coming to the school was a great luxury, for they spent their mornings doing household chores and their afternoons needlework and sewing, creating masterpieces of handiwork to add to their dowries.
The informal school under the tree lasted for five months. I had to leave India to renew my visa. I have returned to the village more than a dozen times in the last six years. Each time, different girls, the first ones long disappeared, married off, never to return home or to that shade tree. Gone.
Amy Gigi Alexander is a writer of memoir, fiction, tales of place and social commentary. She’s currently finishing two memoirs, one of which is about her years in India working with children. Her work is widely published, and you can find her at www.amygigialexander.com or on twitter @amyggalexander .
Arzina Begum was 14 when her parents suggested she marry.
The Bangladeshi teen knew marriage would signal the end of her education, and she was desperate to stop it.
A member of the Sunflowers—a local children’s group sponsored by Plan—she knew she had rights. So she turned to the organization’s staff, who took Arzina’s concerns to village leaders, who in turn convinced her parents to delay the wedding.
These days, Arzina is a college student, studying history and culture—and a role model and advocate for other young girls in Bangladesh, where 82 percent of women between the ages of 29 and 45 were married before their 18th birthdays.
“I am the first girl in my village and in my family to go to the university,” she recently told an audience at the 2013 Oslo Freedom Forum. “I know many girls in my community look up to me and want to follow me.”
During study breaks, she meets with community leaders and educates them on the harmful consequences of child marriage. She herself has intervened on behalf of three potential child brides, halting all three underage marriages. And the local government declared her village in northern Bangladesh a child marriage-free zone.
“But a lot more needs to be done . . .. More girls need to be saved from the curse of child marriage, and that’s where I seek your support,” she told the crowd in Oslo.
The two greatest needs, she said, are increasing overall access to education and making secondary education free for all children. Girls who stay in school tend to delay marriage, which results in a number of health and economic benefits. In fact, a recent report published by the Council on Foreign Relations indicates that even one extra year of schooling can increase a woman’s wages by 10 to 20 percent, which ultimately benefits her entire community.
Promoting economic empowerment of women and girls happens to be this week’s theme for the “50 Days of Action for Women and Girls” campaign, an effort started by the International Women’s Health Coalition to marshal global support for policies and programs that keep girls safe, healthy, educated and empowered.
Arzina’s goal is to make child marriage in her country the exception—and higher education and professional achievement among women the norm.
“Please help my sisters who face child marriage and give them the opportunity to study so there are many more Arzinas like me—strong, confident girls who dare to follow their dreams,” she said.
VII photographer and Too Young to Wed team member Stephanie Sinclair discussed child marriage at the Oslo Freedom Forum as well.
To participate in the “50 Days of Action for Women and Girls” campaign, try tweeting some of these sample messages:
- #Educated girls become #women who thrive: Keep girls in school to #endchildmarriage. #usa4women #ed4all
- Women are more likely than men to put $ back into their communities. @StateDept: End poverty by investing in women. #usa4women #usa4girls
- By not educating girls to same standard as boys, 65 low/mid-income countries are losing $92bn a year @StateDept #usa4girls #Post2015
- Without basic skills & quality education, women & girls cannot help their communities out of #poverty. #usa4women #usa4girls #humanrights
If you prefer to share a message on Facebook, try one of these:
“Young people are at the heart of today’s great strategic opportunities and challenges, from rebuilding the global economy to combating violent extremism to building sustainable democracies.” –Hillary Clinton http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/02/184656.htm
Around the world, millions of girls experience barriers to learning and education that prevent them from lifting themselves, and their communities, out of poverty. The U.S. State Department should be doing more to improve learning opportunities for girls. This global investment and action agenda is a good start: http://coalitionforadolescentgirls.org/knowledge/resources/girls-count-global-investment/#USA4Girls
Child marriage isn’t just a human rights violation.
Because the practice is linked to poor maternal and child health, domestic violence, curtailed education, community instability and the cycle of poverty, child marriage is also a major threat to America’s interests abroad.
So says “Ending Child Marriage: How Elevating the Status of Girls Advances U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives,” a report published this week by the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that specializes in U.S. foreign policy.
Author Rachel Vogelstein, a fellow in CFR’s Women and Foreign Policy program, outlines the scope of the problem, points out some efforts that have helped curtail the practice and then lays out a convincing case for why the U.S.—if only for selfish reasons—should make ending child marriage a foreign policy priority.
The report’s release coincides with the midpoint of the “50 Days of Action for Women and Girls” campaign, an effort started by the International Women’s Health Coalition to marshal global support for policies and programs that keep girls safe, healthy, educated and empowered. This week’s focus is ending early and forced marriages, a practice that is estimated to affect 14 million girls under the age of 18 annually.
The United States spends billions of dollars each year on foreign aid designed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, promote human rights, spur economic growth and development, support primary and secondary education, and improve the health of mothers and children in developing countries.
Promoting—and funding—programs that help end child marriage, Vogelstein argues, gives the U.S. a much bigger return on that investment.
For instance, ending child marriage would itself reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, which tends to be higher among child brides who are often significantly younger than their husbands and may not have access to information about safe sex.
Ending child marriage could improve the overall health among women and children in developing countries by reducing the rates of pregnancy and childbirth among young girls. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 in the developing world, according to the report. And babies born to those young mothers face much higher risks of prematurity, low birth weight, childhood malnutrition and even death.
Ending child marriage could have a significant impact on promoting education because child brides are far more likely to drop out of school than girls who marry later. Even one extra year of schooling can increase a woman’s wages by 10 to 20 percent, according to the report. That ultimately helps the economy of an entire community.
Furthermore, including women in the workforce—a task made much easier if they’re educated—has been shown to increase a country’s gross domestic product as well as per capita incomes.
Lastly, the report points out that promoting gender equality can reduce violence against women and girls, which can ultimately reduce civil strife and conflict—which ultimately is the goal of a successful foreign policy.
“In this time of austerity, policymakers should recognize that addressing child marriage is not only a moral imperative—it is also a cost-effective and strategic imperative to achieve the United States’ diplomatic and development goals,” Vogelstein concludes. “The reach and success of U.S. efforts to improve global health, bolster education, foster economic growth, and promote stability and the rule of law will grow stronger if this persistent practice comes to an end.”
If you’d like to join the “50 Days of Action for Women and Girls Campaign” and promote ending child marriage, here are some sample Twitter messages to share:
- #SecKerry: Each girl is a universe of potential. Give them choices, opportunities & a chance at a real future. #endchildmarriage #usa4girls
- Girls need healthcare, #education, safety, economic independence & a chance to live their dreams. #endchildmarriage #usa4girls
- #childmarriage perpetuates cycle of poverty. Allowing girls to learn, grow and thrive is key to breaking that cycle. #usa4girls
If you prefer to share a message on Facebook, try one of these:
- “Child marriage is a violation of human rights. By 2020, 142 million innocent young girls worldwide will be separated from their friends and family, deprived of an education and put in harm’s way because of child marriage. Together, let us resolve to end the discrimination and poverty that perpetuate this harmful practice.” –UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon www.tooyoungtowed.org
- A 13-year-old child bride married to a man in his 70s tells the story of how she escape and is working to prevent child marriage in her community in Tanzania: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/08/opinion/child-marriage-kilusu
- Each year, approximately 14 million girls are married before they turn 18. That’s 37,000 girls who become wives every day. They are robbed of their education, health, youth and future. Learn more about what you can do: www.girlsnotbrides.org