Thirdeyemom

Too Young to Wed launches Girls Empowerment Campaign in rural Ethiopia

Too Young to Wed, a non-profit organization, that employs visual media, photography exhibits and campaigns to educate and engage the global community to demand an end to the practice of child marriage, has launched a new Girls’ Empowerment Campaign in rural Ethiopia. I wrote at length about Too Young to Wed in a must-read post last week and wanted to introduce their new campaign today in honor of Giving Tuesday (Giving Tuesday is a day that asks people to consider giving back to their favorite charities and always falls on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving in the United States).

By partnering with local nonprofits, Too Young to Wed supports income-generating projects, literacy classes and girl engagement groups where the girls in their stories live. One such project is in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, a place that I actually had the pleasure of visiting myself this past June as a fellow with the International Reporting Project.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is estimated that around 80-90% of Ethiopia’s population live in rural, remote regions and over 30% of the population lives under the international poverty line of $1.25 per day (1) and the majority live under $2 a day. Child and maternal mortality health rates are falling yet still remain quite high, while life expectancy and education rates are low.

Two young girls near Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Stephanie Sinclair

Two young girls near Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Stephanie Sinclair

The status of women is also low and Ethiopia has one of the most severe crises of child marriage in the world today. Although the legal age of marriage is 18 for both males and females it is widely ignored.

Per the Population Council, leading experts on the issue of child marriage in Ethiopia (2):

“A high prevalence of child marriage exists nationwide, with 19 percent of girls were married by age 15, and about half of girls were married by age 18.”

Ethiopia also endures some of the most abusive marital practices in the world, such as marriage by abduction and forced unions between cousins (abusuma). Another harmful practice is female genital mutilation, which affects almost 80 percent of Ethiopian women. (3). Not only is the practice harmful, it can be dangerous when done and when a young girl gives birth to an already undeveloped reproductive system.

Stephanie Sinclair became aware of the high level of child marriage in Ethiopia over a decade ago while she was working as a photojournalist particularly in the region of Amhara, in northern Ethiopia. In Amhara, child marriage is extremely prevalent: 50 percent of girls were married by age 15, and 80 percent were married by age 18 (2).

Sinclair’s work has taken her to Bahir Dar and its surrounding villages in Amhara many times and over the years she has been able to grow long-lasting relationships with the women, girls and men of the communities where she has worked hard to help pave the way to initiate change.

Several years ago, Sinclair met an eleven-year-old girl named Destaye on the night before her wedding and was able to document her wedding on film. Sinclair’s short 6-minute film below shows Destaye at fifteen-years-old tending to her 6-month old baby. The film is a powerful, emotional testament of the pain and hardship that child marriage brings.

Too Young to Wed: Destaye on Vimeo

Fifteen-year-old Destaye and her husband divide their time between working in the fields and taking care of their 6-month-old baby. At the time of their marriage, when Destaye was age 11, she was still in school and her husband expressed interest in letting her continue her education. Since the birth of their son, however, she has had to fulfill her duties of being a wife and mother exclusively. This short film by Jessica Dimmock and Stephanie Sinclair examines this young girl’s journey as a child bride in Ethiopia. Duration: 6 minutes.

About the Girls Empowerment Campaign:

Too Young To Wed’s goal is to move discussions about early, forced and child marriages into action that will eliminate this harmful practice worldwide. In order to help these efforts, Too Young to Wed is supporting the development of Girls Groups- an adolescent girls empowerment initiative designed for vulnerable girls living in rural areas. Two Young to Wed’s pilot program will focus on girls living in the rural area on the outskirts of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia where Sinclair met Destaye and knows the community. Adolescent girls in these communities are often at a high risk of early marriage, unintended pregnancies, and adverse health consequences such as complications related to pregnancy. (4)

Two of the girls who live near Bahir Dar that will help lead Too Young to Wed's new empowerment program. Photo credit: Stephanie Sinclair

Two of the girls who live near Bahir Dar that will help lead Too Young to Wed’s new empowerment program. Photo credit: Stephanie Sinclair

By providing a social and safe space for girls to gather and discuss their lives, bodies and aspirations together, Two Young to Wed will strive to improve girls’ social, health, and economic opportunities and avoid early marriage; allow girls to stay in school; and delay early pregnancy. These groups are girl-lead by adolescent girls in the community who have been mentored by a local community member. Each week, the girls groups meet and learn life skills related to health, social, and financial education. (4)

Since meeting Destaye, Sinclair has stayed in touch. Destaye now has two children, the second is a daughter. She never went back to school which she left at 13. However, Too Young to Wed is hoping to help her along with other girls and women within her community who were married too young. Even Destaye’s husband, a priest, understands now that child marriage is holding his community back and slowly but surely they are hoping that through education, knowledge and empowerment, things will change.

Resources for this post:
1. Unicef Statistics Ethiopia 
2. Population Council: Ethiopia Child Marriage report
3. Unicef: Ethiopia – African women parliamentarians condemn female genital mutilation
4. Source: Too Young to Wed

How you can help:

Too Young to Wed is trying to raise $25,000 of funds to help launch the Girls Empowerment Program in Ethiopia that will run for two years lead by girls from the communities. Please consider supporting this incredible initiative that empowers adolescent girls and helps eradicate early marriage and its’ devastating effects.

There are two ways to donate:

1.  Equality Now, a registered 501c3 non-profit organization, is working in collaboration with Too Young to Wed as their fiscal sponsor. In this capacity, donations for Too Young to Wed are processed by Equality Now and will be tax deductible to the extent allowable by law.

To donate, click here.

2.  Thankful Registry.

Make a tax-deductible donation to Too Young To Wed and we’ll send you a “100% THANKFUL” tote. It’s our way of saying thanks for your support.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Donate $50 or more to Too Young To Wed
  2. Forward your mailing address and donation receipt to: totes@thankfulregistry.com

Please note: 1) Complimentary totes are limited to the first 100 donors. 2) For addresses outside the U.S., we’ll email you a $6 invoice for shipping.

To visit Thankful Registry’s Too Young to Wed contribution page, click here.

3 comments

  1. The video leaves me so sad Nicole. Thank you for sharing this important message with us. Can one even imagine such a situation for our own daughters?

    • Thanks Sue. It is sad. Having my little girl Sophia who is 8 and thinking of her in this situation is heartbreaking. I am going to do whatever I can to help these girls and this project.

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