Although the ITL funding has finished, this project is continuing to work through faith and community leaders in 12 communities in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria, seeking to transform attitudes about girls’ rights and roles. Ultimately the project aims to support girls to stay in school, reduce early marriage and increase their long term economic opportunities.
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.
The prevalence of early marriage in Nigeria is high, and even more pronounced in Kaduna state, in the north of the country.
In the following section we’ll explain the work of the CAAGI project, as well as the impact the project has had.
In terms of measuring the impact of ITL projects, it can sometimes be difficult to do this with a purely quantitative approach. This is because the nature of the programme means that ideas are often piloted among a relatively small group of beneficiaries – so looking for changes which are statistically significant can be a challenge.
In the case of CAAGI, the way we have measured impact is more qualitative – observing changes in behaviour that are indicative of the cultural shift that ITL projects aim to achieve. As you’ll see below, the personal stories of numerous individuals are signs that this aim has been realised.
The project has two main focus areas:
- Working with perhaps the most influential cultural agents within Nigerian communities – faith leaders – to engage them on matters relating to adolescent girls.
- Working with adolescent girls themselves (as well as the other parts of the community) to build awareness of these issues.
Equipping faith leaders to be agents of change
In total, the project worked with 144 faith leaders. The main focus was to equip them with the skills to confidently discuss issues relating to adolescent girls – such as early marriage and education. Importantly, all of the engagement around these topics, and the materials produced, were founded on scripture. It became clear throughout the project, that this was an area which had been neglected before. One church minister remarked that although he knew girls were facing these issues, he didn’t feel as though he had the knowledge or capacity to advocate to either to parents or to his congregation.
Grounding arguments in scripture
One of the key resources which was created and used as part of the project was the faith leaders’ toolkit. This document provides information on topics such as puberty in girls – aimed at raising awareness among faith leaders of the wider context in which girls live. Critically, it uses scripture as a basis for treating girls with dignity and valuing their education. Proverbs 31 is one such example.
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
- Proverbs 31, v17-18.
In this case, a pragmatic argument could be made that in order for ‘a wife of noble character’ to be a successful businesswoman, she would need an education at least to calculate that her trading is profitable.
The toolkit also uses quotes from the Quran to argue the case for treating girls equally.
In total, 93 of the 144 faith leaders working with the CAAGI project are taking action to improve the welfare and opportunities for adolescent girls. Specifically, there have been numerous instances of faith leaders stepping in on behalf of adolescent girls, to prevent forced, early marriages.
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 Faith Actors Dialogue Forum (FADF) was established as part of the project, comprising representatives from a number of different faiths and denominations. The forum meets on a monthly basis specifically to discuss topics relating to gender. This provides an opportunity for the faith leaders involved in the CAAGI project to share their learning. As a result of the forum, the toolkit is now being used beyond Kaduna State.
Securing state protection for children
Perhaps the most tangible outcome of the of the FADF was to influence the passing of the Child Rights Act in Kaduna state. The FADG mobilised not only faith actors, but adolescent girls to participate in public hearings to add pressure to ensure the passing of the law.
In addition to prohibiting child marriage and child betrothal, the Child Rights Law categorically states that the best interest of the child shall be of paramount importance in all considerations. The law emphasises the child’s right to survival and development, its right to a name and registration at birth, and the right to protection and all necessary care.
The forum is also working to abridge the document and translate into local languages so that awareness of it can be spread across Kaduna.
As well as equipping faith leaders, the project also works with girls, and other members of the community, to help to change the wider culture.
One of the core initiatives of the project was the establishment of ‘GEADOR circles’. GEADOR stands for Gender and Development Organising Resource – they are forums comprising women, men, girls and boys. They provide a space where issues relating to how adolescent girls are treated can be openly discussed. Girls in particular are ensured that they can share their experiences.
These forums exist within each of the communities where CAAGI is working – each of them fall within a wider group of forums called a ‘GEADOR circle’. This enables insights from the individual GEADOR groups to be escalated and shared with representatives from the local government.
The fact that members of both sexes, including girls, are cooperating together to resolve community issues is significant in Kaduna state – in many of the communities where CAAGI has worked, divisions between men and women are deep-seated.
The GEADOR forums have also been the means by which girls, and other members of the community have received training to help the plight of adolescent girls.
Through training, girls have gained practical skills in negotiating their welfare within the family. This has led to closer relationships with their parents and caregivers at home and in schools and church/mosque. Adolescent Girls in four communities have advocated to community leaders on improved access to education and economic empowerment.
Where girls are already married, or they have had children, CAAGI has enabled them to return to school or to learn new vocational skills to help them provide for their families.
I am going to send my children to school and at the same time ensure that they learn a vocational skill, because skill makes you self reliant.
- Zuwaira Danjuma, GEADOR member at Kamuru-Ikulu, Zango Kataf.
Early marriage can be a highly sensitive topic. Even where the reasons for its justification aren't based on religion, they tend to be deep-seated and not easy to challenge. The baseline study conducted at the beginning of the project revealed that in addition to the application of religion, cultural reasons and expectations from family members (including mothers) were cited as the basis for girls marrying at a young age.
Equipping faith leaders, who are trusted members of the community has proven to be a successful means of broaching the subject and to challenging deeply held beliefs - and avoiding a backlash.
The project has had success in engaging with faith leaders at both community and state level. However, this was more of an organic process - done through natural networking amongst faith leaders. As this approach is used in the future, a Power Analysis exercise has been recommended so that key influential faith actors can be identified from the outset.
The capacity building of adolescent girls has also proven to be a success and is an approach which could be replicated in the future. In four of the 12 communities which CAAGI has worked in, adolescent girls are actively engaging with local government actors to improve the support which they receive.
Among Muslim communities, a key insight is that dowry payments are often misused - being given to the bride's family rather than the bride. The payments are often used to solve family disputes - leaving the girl to be used as a pawn. This has successfully been challenged my imams as part of the project. So too has the practice of Zonzon where a girl is forced out of the home if she has fallen pregnant.