A girl with a voice is a strong girl
A group of 30 schoolgirls huddle in conversation in a classroom in Elu Eteya, a remote rural town, in, Ethiopia. From the outside, this weekly meeting looks like any other, but this is not a typical school gathering. It is here that some of the most life-changing conversations are taking place.
The recurring issue of child marriage is always a focus of conversation.
For these girls, aged between 12 and 17, this weekly gathering of the Girls' Rights Club, introduced to the school by Right To Play, is a place where they can feel safe and communicate openly. Discussion topics range from how the girls in their community are raised, the financial burdens of buying menstruation products and soap, the unfair delegation of household chores between girls and boys, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation and their concerns over child marriage.
Two female teachers, trained by Right To Play, lead these sessions and provide experience, support and solidarity. They encourage open debates and steer reflection on how these challenges may be affecting the girls’ lives and their education.
And in rural villages like this one, the recurring issue of child marriage is always a focus of conversation.
When she was just sixteen, 17-year-old Liya’s parents tried to force her into marriage. It was not what she wanted, but in small communities like Elu Eteya, child marriage remains a deeply rooted tradition. Ethiopia has the 15th highest rate of child marriage in the world, two in every five girls are married before their 18th birthday and nearly one in five girls marries before the age of 15.
Liya desperately wanted to stay in school. She needed support and she found it in the group. Liya felt safe enough to bring her concerns to her peers and teachers in the group. Her teacher stepped in and got the local authorities to intervene and stop the marriage.
Through their discussion group, girls are driving solutions to other important issues too. Like, helping stop harassment and the disrespectful treatment by some of the boys and men in the community, along with the construction of changing rooms and latrines to provide privacy during their menstruation.
Workie, the teacher who leads the discussion group, says she has seen significant improvement.
“The solutions they find are all built around a discussion,” says Workie.
"The group has allowed the girls to share ideas."
“Before, the girls wouldn’t express their problems. Like when they had their menstrual cycles they would just leave the school. The group has allowed the girls to share ideas of their needs and what solutions may benefit them.” Workie says the meetings have allowed the girls to realize that they share many of the same issues and if they talk to each other, then together they are more likely to overcome them.
“A girl with a voice,” she adds knowingly, “is a strong girl.”