Stories Of Innovations to Delay Early Marriage by Indigenous Nigerian NGOs

Empowerment for girls’ education at the Girl Child Education (GCE) – A story of innovation

My name is Habiba Mohammed and my organisation is called the Center for Girls’ Education (CGE), based in Zaria, Kaduna state. In the project – Building  Collaboration, Partnerships and Political Commitment to Delay Early Marriage and the Onset of Childbearing in Northern Nigeria we worked in Zaria. The approach used by my organisation to delay early marriage and the onset of childbearing in Northern Nigeria is safe spaces for girls. This idea was born as a result of a research conducted by some doctors at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital Shika, which If the girls had completed their secondary education at least, they would have attained physiological maturity, in addition to increased access to antenatal care. This informed our idea to base our approach on education as the strategic innovation to delay early marriage and the onset of childbearing for young girls in Northern Nigeria.

A second factor which shaped the selection of education as the innovative approach to delay early marriage is that we had interviews with mothers in the community. Mothers told us that they sent older daughter to school who graduated without knowing how to read or write. We then found out that the poor educational quality and poor school infrastructure were a big factor behind parents marrying off their daughters at a very young age. The girls in our target communities were normally married off at the average age of 14; they mostly did not graduate secondary school. While there were schools in the community the facility was had only 3 classes and the roofs in 2 of the classes were off. There was also no water supply, no toilet  facilities and very few female teachers.

To address these issues we came up with the idea of safe spaces where the girls will be taught basic literacy and numeracy based on a curriculum designed specifically for that purpose. Besides basic literacy and numeracy, the young girls were put through life skills issues such as reproductive health including adolescent health; and personal hygiene. They were also taught how to prepare the oral rehydration solution (ORS), cookery and how to be assertive and be able to say “NO” to being pulled out of school to be married off early. In Hausaland, it is believed that when a girl is silent over the issue of marriage, she is indirectly giving consent, not knowing that most girls only keep silent due to shyness or out of respect for elders, not because they are in support of what is about to happen to them. This affects them later in life.

To help them remember what they have been taught at the safe spaces, we published a comic book so they can practice their literacy at home and they could also read to their younger ones at home and cultivate a reading habit. The comic book is actually a true story, featuring a young girl who was denied education and married at a young age.

I believe this is an innovation because the mixture of safe spaces and educational support is not in the conventional government schools. I would say that our innovation was a success because of how distinguished our first cohort of girls has turned out to be. Parents of girls who are not a part of the safe spaces are presently asking that their daughters be included. Other communities who were not a part of our intervention communities but who have heard about the safe spaces are also requesting that the safe spaces be extended to their communities. We attribute the success of this innovation to the safe spaces and the comic book.

At first we had resistance from some communities. They were suspicious of our activities and didn’t want anything new to be introduced into their communities. There was one community leader (mai unguwa) who said to us “what is the point of this education you people are stressing about? After all my son has finished school but is still here with us in the farm. His schooling was a total waste of time.” He asked us to leave his community which we did, but he is now calling us back to come and impart change in his community through the safe spaces sessions we hold for girls so in essence, the innovation has spoken for itself.

Looking back, I feel that we should have included the girls that were out of school into the safe spaces right from the start because now that their parents have understood the importance of education and enrolled them into school, they are far behind and not benefitting from the safe spaces.

Read the whole report. Innovations to Delay Early Marriage