The empowerment of indigenous women is one of several issues being discussed at the 61st Commission on the Status of Women in New York this week. To find out what it means to empower indigenous girls and women to say no to child marriage, we spoke to Yeri Nancy, Child Protection Officer at NORSAAC, one of our members in Ghana.
How does NORSAAC work to empower indigenous girls and women?
Child marriage disempowers women and girls. To help empower them, we run “Let the Girls Smile: Say no to child marriage”, a child protection project to end child marriage in 30 indigenous communities across northern Ghana. Different tribes have different reasons for marrying girls. But the social norms that portray girls as inferior and make them vulnerable to child marriage cut across all tribes. I have seen countless friends and my own mother go through child marriage. Now, I dedicate my work to ending the practice within the Dagomba community. One day, I would like to extend my work to my home region in the north-west of Ghana.
How else is NORSAAC helping to end child marriage in Ghanaian communities?
We run “Households against child marriage” in northern Ghana, where child marriage numbers are the highest in the country. It’s an innovative way of inciting and promoting dialogue in indigenous communities. It goes like this:
First, volunteer households choose a symbol of their choice to represent their commitment to ending child marriage.
The symbols are then put in places where everyone in the community can easily see them. This could be planting a tree or flowers, nailing padlocks to trees, hanging hoes to the wall, writing inscriptions on walls, etc.
These symbols being unique, they cause neighbours and passers-by to become curious about the new signs cropping up around the village.
When they ask what the symbols mean they find themselves involved in a discussion about child marriage.
Some households have been able to convince others to join the movement. With new houses adopting powerful new symbols every day, the message that child marriage is wrong quickly spreads throughout the community. In Kpalsogu community the local chief himself has helped lead the way with his own house. As a result of his involvement, he has developed a by-law to deter child marriage and early pregnancy.
What motivates you to help end child marriage?
My mother herself was forced into marriage with an elderly man as a child. She was able to escape and has since prioritised the education of me and my two sisters. She motivates me every day. I am committed to girls’ education and I myself graduated from university. I hope my family can show that change is possible, even in one generation.
About child marriage in Ghana
According to UNICEF, 21% of girls in Ghana are married before they reach adulthood. Nancy was lucky enough to receive an education, but many of her classmates never had the chance. Instead they became pregnant or married far too young.
Addressing social issues like child marriage and increasing girls’ access to education are important ways of empowering indigenous women. These issues ought to be part of the conversation at CSW this week to ensure girls are able make healthy and informed choices about their future.
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