According to UNICEF in 2017, 17% of girls in Nigeria are married by the age of 15 and 44% are married by 18. MEDA's current project in the Bauchi State of Nigeria works to combat this statistic by focusing on women and youth (WAY) empowerment through economic independence. The project also works to raise awareness of the social restrictions that women face under patriarchy in Bauchi, specifically pertaining to Early and Forced Child Marriage.
Culture and traditions in many regions of developing countries, such as Bauchi State, have heavy patriarchal influence. In many situations, young women and girls do not have many options other than early marriage. In Bauchi, if they are not married by 14, they are placed in precarious social positions to make money, such as hawking. Hawking is a term for selling goods on the street, often resulting in the vulnerability of young girls to sexual harassment and unwanted pregnancies.
Lydia Ameh, the Gender Coordinator in Nigeria for the WAY project, remarked on the alternatives for young girls when they are not allowed an education: "From the age of primary school, young girls in Bauchi are hawking and then by the time she reaches the age of secondary school, she has been married off. Who gives her permission to go to school? Her husband won’t and will tell her it is better to carry a child.”
Ameh calls for an increase in the empowerment of women and girls in Nigeria. She says, “There needs to be a social dialogue where girls are supported by their families and communities, and where they are respected and involved in education and economic empowerment."
MEDA is working to raise awareness of early and forced child marriage and to support women and youth’s economic empowerment through the WAY project not only by inviting women to the table, but also by working with men. Through implementing awareness campaigns that discuss the importance of employment and entrepreneurship skills building, the provision of safe spaces and mentorship opportunities, space is being created for women's entrepreneurship and independence. Once men are invited into the discussion, they are more willing to support the entrepreneurship of women in their community. Ameh’s comment on the change she has seen in the first year of the project echoes this.
She says, “The program sees that engaging men in conversation and witness will open space where the men and community members can see the women as partners in development activities.” This project, as well as many of MEDA's other current projects, demonstrates the necessity of decision making and awareness building initiatives being inclusive of both women and men.
When asked about her hopes for her community and Bauchi State, Ameh responded: “The greatest benefit of the project will be economic empowerment for the women involved. They will have access to basic resources of credit, access to market information, and the confidence to approach a financial institution to ask for credit."
MEDA’s Nigeria WAY project is an example of the positive change, success, and empowerment that occurs when women are given a seat at the table and men are also invited to join the conversation.
Women's empowerment and independence through increased market opportunities and access to collateral, allowing them to support themselves and their families.
MEDA is setting an example that by investing in women, we help to unleash power, bring hope, and create sustainable futures for women, their families, and communities.
Want to get involved with this project? Join us for our Women Walking to GROW initiative! Hike Ontario's Bruce Trail to help raise funds for this amazing project!
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