Child marriage traps girls in a cycle of poverty and powerlessness, severely damaging health and prospects for themselves and their children.
Patterns between child marriage and education are interlinked: marriage often prevents girls getting an education and, conversely, girls with less schooling are more likely to marry early.
This project works through faith and community leaders in 12 communities, seeking to transform attitudes about girls’ rights and roles.
Ultimately the project has three main aims:
- supporting girls to stay in school
- reducing early marriage
- increasing girls’ long-term economic opportunities.
Promoting and protecting girls’ rights is highly sensitive work, given local cultural norms, and with violent extremists active in northern Nigeria, there are security issues too.
The project got underway with a survey, exploring attitudes and beliefs in the local area. Over a third of respondents felt that religious teachings were most influential in determining attitudes towards girls, followed by culture/tradition and family values.
We worked with Christian and Muslim leaders, scholars and teachers to develop a faith-based toolkit for religious leaders to use to promote girls’ rights. The toolkit reflects the contributions from different religious groups, and has been printed in local languages. It is proving very popular, with demand surpassing expectations.
Empowered by the project’s training workshops, faith leaders and teachers have begun mediating with parents, seeking to persuade them to allow their daughters to finish their education before getting married.
Their efforts are already bearing fruit. Although it is too early for detailed data collection across the project area, early reports indicate that more girls are staying in school, and a number who had left have returned. This includes girls whose marriages have been postponed or cancelled, and recently married girls whose husbands have agreed to them finishing school.
The project has also established a faith leaders’ dialogue forum. This acts as a platform to amplify their influence with other faith actors, and to collectively advocate for policy changes which would benefit girls.
Imam Sani explained that through his involvement with CAAGI he now preaches in the mosque about creating opportunities for girls to access education. ‘I had never talked about these issues before CAAGI, but now that the project is here in Sabon Gayan, I am talking about them freely. Previously, you didn’t talk about it because it would be taken to mean you are questioning the authority of the religion,’ he said.
Now, through the local community group, Imam Sani is equipped to back everything with scriptures from the Quran. ‘Why should girls be denied an education and made to marry early?’ he says. ‘People are beginning to question these practices.’
In 2016, inspired by the teachings of Imam Sani, 17-year-old Amina Salisu (pictured left) decided to go back to school and speak against her planned marriage.
The survey highlighted that although faith, culture and tradition are interlinked, they are not the same thing. And although faith leaders wield considerable influence, parents and guardians play critical roles too. As such, the project has sought to involve these groups more closely in the design and development of project activities.
As expected, the project has encountered some resistance to its activities, primarily from men who hold deeply entrenched patriarchal beliefs. One of the ways the project is countering this is by training men and boys to be vocal ‘gender champions’.
These gender champions have been successful in working with a number of parents whose adolescent girls were not in school, to encourage them to return their daughters to the education system.