A Mother Knows


Anonymous man

Nastasia Paul-Gera, Save the Children Fellow

West Showa, Ethiopia

May 13, 2013


I
visited West Showa, Ethiopia, in October 2012 as a Princeton in Africa Fellow
for Gender for the Save the Children, Ethiopia Country Program. 

The
Sponsorship program works extensively across West Showa, and adolescent mothers
are among its beneficiaries. The program’s primary beneficiaries are children,
but work with these young mothers acknowledges that girls and boys do not live
in a vacuum. Children of adolescent parents are at higher risk of health
complications, as well as academic failure. Interventions that target children
can’t afford to ignore their mothers and fathers, who play a critical role in
children’s physical and social development.

Ethiopia
is one of seven countries that account for half of the 8 million children born
to adolescents every year. Studies show that these mothers face a higher risk
of physical and social disadvantages.  Moreover,
they are frequently school drop-outs and are at higher risk of exploitation and
abuse.

To
help them, the Sponsorship program began an Adolescent Mothers’ Group in West
Showa, with approximately 30 participants. The group is a forum for discussions
about reproductive health, life skills, self esteem, family planning, and
HIV/Aids, among other subjects. Participants in the group have studied up to 3rd
grade – or not at all. The small room they work in is set up like a classroom
and adolescent mothers, with their young children in their arms, sit together
and, guided by a curriculum, discuss these issues.

One
of the topics the mothers discussed during my visit was hygiene. They stated
that hygiene and water management are the responsibility of women and girls.
Interestingly, they mentioned that, once a girl is in school, her domestic responsibilities
will lessen and she has a greater chance of staying in school. However, if she
leaves, she is responsible for all household activities. The mothers also discussed
reproductive health, a taboo topic prior to the formation of the group. Through
the course of the curriculum, the women will explore family planning, sexually
transmitted diseases and child spacing.

The
two final topics discussed during my visit were female genital cutting (FGM/C)
and abductions, both extremely common practices. The young mothers stated that girls
are often cut without their parents’ consent, so practitioners of FGM/C are an
important entry point for efforts to eradicate the practice. Abductions, they
stated, are also extremely common. Girls are frequently abducted and raped on
their way to and from school and, given the cultural taboo that forbids these young
girls from returning to their parents’ home, they are forced to marry the men
who raped them. Community leaders are an important entry point to challenging the
practice.

The
adolescent mothers I met were undoubtedly sensitive to the gender-related
challenges in their community and to the actions needed to address the
challenges. They are already playing a role in re-shaping harmful community
practices, primarily through information-dissemination to community members.
They recommended expanding child-to-child programming, as well as involving men
in some of the discussions. Yes, these young women are a vulnerable,
marginalized and frequently ignored group, but they are also a resource with the
capacity to bring about great positive change within their communities. The Adolescent
Mothers Group helps address their vulnerabilities, while capitalizing on their
abilities.

According
to one group member, “We are different from our mothers who were dominated by
our fathers. We are also decision makers.”

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