Ethiopia’s teenage bride survivors
Married at only 12, Yenguse is now 17 years old. Yet today she is one of a group of 20 girls with similar pasts, who are all inspired and hopeful for a better future. Yenguse says that what she gained from the CARE community discussion and training project which she is taking part in has already helped her to open her eyes. It has boosted her confidence to improve her life.
Own small world
“I knew nothing before. I could not have imagined coming to a gathering like this and speaking publicly. I never said hello to other women, even if our paths crossed. Now we are more than friends, we share all that we have,” says Yenguse.
This group of young married girls were each once confined in their own small world. Not allowed to talk freely to others, even other young women. If they ever did they were considered to be looking for someone other than their husbands. Girls were not allowed to speak loudly either, a disregard to the others. Often mother in laws kept watch to ensure these social mores were kept to.
Today the young women all have long lists of positive changes: from family planning to knowing their right to make their own decisions; communication skills, negotiation skills and income generating/business skills and more.
“I have learned how to create harmony with my husband, the importance of hygiene and sanitation, gender equality and decision making in the household. I also seek health care whenever I need it. And I have started using family planning,” Yenguse explained.
Asked why she started using family planning now when she had not before, Yenguse says they had information on the benefits but her husband and her mother in-law were against it. “He used to say, What the hell is family planning? - bring a son sooner so that he can help us with taking care of our livestock.”
However, through the project Yenguse learned that she will be healthier and more able to provide the best care to her children if they have a smaller family with spacing. She has been able to explain this to her husband.
The young women’s husbands and mothers in law have also had the opportunity to join similar discussion groups. Through these groups their outlooks have begun to change too.
Like Yenguse, Endework says that her husband used to beat her whenever her mother in-law told him something negative about her. “My husband and I quarreled often. We used to say ‘who cares about the marriage’. Divorce used to seem the primary solution. Now, there is tolerance between us. When he is angry, I remain calm and I will discuss it with him when he is calm. We can negotiate.”
These days Endework’s husband helps her with cooking and takes care of the baby when she does other chores. “We respect each other. He even feels guilty, saying that he had been oppressing me. I used to hate my mother in-law but now I have started to like her. I see that what we needed was to understand each other better,” she added.
Speaking of the future Endework says with determination “I want to go back to school.” She quit education in the 3rd grade when she got married. She and her husband plan to pursue education with their parents support in looking after their one year old daughter. Their current way of life is becoming harder, she explains, so they need to find new options through education.
Endework is not alone in this goal. “After getting involved in this project a year ago, I have started going back to school,” says Yeshialem Mulugeta, who is about to turn 18. She got married at the age of 13. She was forced to leave education and have children after her marriage. “My mother in law used to tell my husband that I would leave him if I got educated.”
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