Nastasia Paul-Gera, Save the Children Fellow
West Showa, Ethiopia
May 13, 2013
I visited West Showa, Ethiopia, in October 2012 as a Princeton in Africa Fellow for Gender for the Save the Children, Ethiopia Country Program.
The Sponsorship program works extensively across West Showa, and adolescent mothers are among its beneficiaries. The program’s primary beneficiaries are children, but work with these young mothers acknowledges that girls and boys do not live in a vacuum. Children of adolescent parents are at higher risk of health complications, as well as academic failure. Interventions that target children can’t afford to ignore their mothers and fathers, who play a critical role in children’s physical and social development.
Ethiopia is one of seven countries that account for half of the 8 million children born to adolescents every year. Studies show that these mothers face a higher risk of physical and social disadvantages. Moreover, they are frequently school drop-outs and are at higher risk of exploitation and abuse.
To help them, the Sponsorship program began an Adolescent Mothers’ Group in West Showa, with approximately 30 participants. The group is a forum for discussions about reproductive health, life skills, self esteem, family planning, and HIV/Aids, among other subjects. Participants in the group have studied up to 3rd grade – or not at all. The small room they work in is set up like a classroom and adolescent mothers, with their young children in their arms, sit together and, guided by a curriculum, discuss these issues.
One of the topics the mothers discussed during my visit was hygiene. They stated that hygiene and water management are the responsibility of women and girls. Interestingly, they mentioned that, once a girl is in school, her domestic responsibilities will lessen and she has a greater chance of staying in school. However, if she leaves, she is responsible for all household activities. The mothers also discussed reproductive health, a taboo topic prior to the formation of the group. Through the course of the curriculum, the women will explore family planning, sexually transmitted diseases and child spacing.
The two final topics discussed during my visit were female genital cutting (FGM/C) and abductions, both extremely common practices. The young mothers stated that girls are often cut without their parents’ consent, so practitioners of FGM/C are an important entry point for efforts to eradicate the practice. Abductions, they stated, are also extremely common. Girls are frequently abducted and raped on their way to and from school and, given the cultural taboo that forbids these young girls from returning to their parents’ home, they are forced to marry the men who raped them. Community leaders are an important entry point to challenging the practice.
The adolescent mothers I met were undoubtedly sensitive to the gender-related challenges in their community and to the actions needed to address the challenges. They are already playing a role in re-shaping harmful community practices, primarily through information-dissemination to community members. They recommended expanding child-to-child programming, as well as involving men in some of the discussions. Yes, these young women are a vulnerable, marginalized and frequently ignored group, but they are also a resource with the capacity to bring about great positive change within their communities. The Adolescent Mothers Group helps address their vulnerabilities, while capitalizing on their abilities.
According to one group member, “We are different from our mothers who were dominated by our fathers. We are also decision makers.”
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