From child bride to champion of girls’ rights
“I’m Consolata, and I am 37 years old. I only completed the 6th grade when my parents withdrew me from school. They said, ‘Six years of education for a girl is enough. The most important diploma for a girl is a husband.’
“At 16, I got married to a 37 year-old man who has another wife. My parents forced me, since they had already taken money for my dowry. I did not want to get married. When I tried to resist this forced marriage, my father told me that I had to go, or he would throw me out of his house, so I had to obey.
“I didn’t enjoy my marriage. My husband would not give me money to support myself. He beat me, and I had nowhere to go for support. He sold the property where I used to grow food. I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t. I was obliged to work for others to feed my children. I just lived in lowliness.”
Consolata is not alone
Nearly 23% of girls in Burundi marry before age 18.
For many families in Burundi, there is no point in investing in a girl, since she will be someone else’s property eventually. For the few years they do live with their parents, instead of focusing on getting an education, girls are expected to do household chores to prepare them for their future roles as wives: cooking meals, fetching firewood, carrying water, and caring for infants.
In Burundi, even the language tells girls that they are not important. Girls are called ‘umukobwa’ which literally means ‘intended for bride price’.
The opportunity to change her life
Fortunately, in 2009 Consolata was able to join the CARE village savings and loans project Umwizero. In addition to economic training and support, and support for women to improve their social and political status, Umwizero provides a social support group for women. The women in Consolata’s group gave her a social network and a chance to talk about her problems.
Through Umwizero, Consolata took a loan of US$5 and in three years turned it into $1000 in land and assets that she purchased and registered in her own name – quite a feat for a woman that no-one believed had any value. She is pushing back on all of the messages that tell women they don’t matter, and that girls are only worth the price another family is willing to pay.
Championing girls’ rights
“Now I lead all of the training on savings and loans for women and men who live in my region,” says Consolata.
“In 2013, I was elected to the National Women’s Forum steering committee. This position gives me an opportunity to help other women, especially young girls who are going through the same situation.
“This year I have helped six young girls both in 6th grade whose parents have already accepted bride price and are planning to get them married. With support, the parents pay back the money and the girls remain at school.”
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