Despite the global mobilization for girls, the international day of the girl child still goes unnoticed in many rural communities in Cameroon. In many rural communities, girls are unaware of the existence of this symbolic day and its importance in their lives and daily struggles. Thanks to Girls Excel, a new social enterprise aimed to promote quality access of sexual and reproductive health services for girls in rural areas of Cameroon, this event was highly commemorated in the North West region of Cameroon. In Partnership with Educate A Child in Africa (ECA) and Leaders of Tomorrow International (LOTI), a one day educational forum was organized with students of Government Bilingual Secondary School Techu Kedjom-Ketinguh in the North west region of Cameroon.
The event was commemorated under the theme ‘The Power of Adolescent girls: Vision for 2030’ on the 9th of October 2015 and it brought together over 150 students. Following the global theme, Girls Excel and its partners dedicated time to listen to the student’s especially adolescent girls while they share their unedited perspective of their daily realities. Adopting a creative community based approach; the students were engaged in a drawing and writing competition involving 10 participants (9 girls and 1 boy). Each participant shared their personal experiences on how their lives were affected by different issues in their community.
The key issues raised by the students in their presentation centered on poverty, lack of access to education, sexual and reproductive health services, early marriages and pregnancy. Most of the girls in the community are married off as early as 15 years old.
‘Early marriage is really an issue with the girls in this community. Two of the most brilliant girls in this school have been married off and they are no longer coming to school’ says Mr Luma, Principal of GBSS Techu Kedjom-Ketinguh.
The event was also used as an opportunity to engage students in the newly acclaimed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The students especially the girls gave their opinions regarding which of the goals was more important to them and their communities such as poverty, health and wellbeing, education, gender equality and peace. Thanks to the generous financial support of some incredible individuals and institutions, the event ended with sanitation kits and text books donated to the ten participants as prizes for their bravery in sharing their experiences. The text books were donated to equip the school library which is currently ill-equipped to meet the needs of the students.
Stories from Girls in Rural Cameroon
The students shared different personal stories on their challenges that rural girls in Cameroon experience. The stories gave vivid images of the most critical challenges that represent the daily struggles of adolescent girls in rural communities in Cameroon.
For 15 year old Shantal, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health has contributed to the increased rate of early and unwanted pregnancies, low school attendance and low self-esteem of adolescent girls in this community. Sharing her personal experiences, Shantal recalls that she and her peers have very little or no knowledge concerning menstrual hygiene management leading to gross absenteeism of girls from school at least 5 days every month. ‘Without access to sanitary pads and other ways to keep our self clean during our period, we cannot be comfortable in school so most of us miss classes until our period is over. Sometimes, it is nice that part of your life is known to you alone’ says Shantal.
12 year old Ann-Marie who is in her first year in secondary school firmly states that early marriage is a horrible experience that snatched away the life of her best friend. ‘My best friend and I used to do everything together when we were in primary school. When she turned 13 years old, she had to drop out of school because of poverty. She was later on married off to a 35 year old man and a few months later, she died from pregnancy related complications’ Anne-Marie says. Anne-Marie’s experience on how poverty pushed her friend into early marriage and an untimely death was just one of the stories shared during the IDG commemoration.
Another girl Mispa, lost her sister to poverty, gender discrimination and early marriage. Their ordeal began the day a forty year old man proposed to marry her 15 year old sister. Their father being a staunch and ardent traditionalist accepted the marriage and this ended the education of her sister. Few months into the marriage, the man started abusing the girl who eventually lost her life.
These challenges have become very common in the community and according to 13 year old Rita; education of the girl child is the best weapon to combat early marriage and poverty in this communities. ‘The education of the girl child is very important in addressing the issue of early marriage. Parents need to realize that girls are not only supposed to be housewives. They should be given the opportunity to work in offices and also hold important decision making positions in the society. It is through education that early marriages can be stopped. Education will help a girl to dream big and give her the opportunity to believe and achieve her dreams’ Rita says.
The experiences narrated by these girls are just a few of the many challenges that adolescent girls in rural Cameroon have to deal with on a daily basis. With access to education and empowerment of the girl child being its core objective, Girls Excel is one of the leading social enterprises addressing this issue in rural Cameroon. Thanks to its commitment towards adopting a community based approach, Girls Excel used this event as an opportunity to have more insight into the challenges of girls and how these challenges can be resolved in line with its mission of creating quality access to sexual and reproductive health education and services for adolescent girls in rural communities in Cameroon. Girls Excel and its partners also donated hygiene kits and text books to the students and the entire school. These kits were donated to facilitate hygiene and sanitation for the students while the text books were used to equip the school library.
‘The major task at hand is to ensure that the strategic need of girls relating to sexual and reproductive health education and services is ensured. At Girls Excel, we are committed to produce and create access to 100% eco-friendly washable sanitary pads for 5,000 girls in rural Cameroon. We know that this is a huge responsibility but we are confident that by joining forces with different grassroot communities and international organizations, we can achieve this goal’ says Konda Delphine, Managing Director of Girls Excel.