Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
Aisha* was invited to the WELDD workshops when her organisation Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN) asked her to be their representative in a workshop organised by BAOBAB for women human rights’ Zamfara outreach team in Nigeria.
She teaches at an Islamic School in Anka, a local government area of Zamfara, and since the workshop her main involvement in the WELDD programme has been to preach women’s equality to her community. “I try to sensitize them on how they differently they treat their sons and their daughters. With girls, they’re married off as early as the age of twelve, and to men much older than her.”
Aisha’s* story involves a twelve-year-old that she met through her weekly speeches via FOMWAN. “We try and enlighten the community on various religious issues, and I usually try and bring up issues on child marriage. One day, after the lectures were over, a little girl from a small Fulani settlement in Guwa village approached me red-eyed and crying. I asked her what was wrong, and through halting sobs she told me she had been betrothed to a forty-year-old man who she had always referred to as Baba Chummau. It was heartbreaking to see—there was clear fear, anguish, helplessness in her eyes, like she was far too young to even comprehend the situation, let alone know what to do about it. Immediately, I asked her follow me, and took her to the rest of my colleagues as they were all packing up to leave. I asked her to relay her story to them, and as soon as she did, there was an immediate, unanimous decision: we were going to go visit her parents.”
Aisha* and her colleague wasted no time and asked the little girl to lead them to her home at once. They reached, and luckily, her father was home.
“He was surprised to see us all with his daughter. We sat him down and gently narrated the entire incident to him; how we run a lecture series on religious issues and child marriage, how his young daughter had come crying to us for help, how we were there to convince him of the dangers of the situation, and how, for the benefit of his children, he should surely reconsider his decision. Neither of us was forceful; there was no anger, no resentment. We simply had a civilized conversation about his daughter’s welfare, and once we felt we had said all we wanted to, we left.
“That wasn’t all, of course. Far from it. From that day on we kept closely in contact with the girl and her family. Her father wasn’t convinced, but some of her other family members were. We used this to our advantage: we asked them to try and change the father’s mind bit by bit, and suspend the marriage until the girl was of appropriate age.
“Until, eventually, we found out that the marriage had been cancelled! Not through force or any such thing—the father himself cancelled the marriage, and allowed his young daughter to continue her studies first. Such a moment of triumph for us!”
It turns out, the father was only pressurizing his daughter into marriage because he was undergoing financial hardship at the time. “To him, getting her married was the only solution; he had thought, well, if she’s going to simply get married later on anyway, why waste all this money on school? Why not get her married already, so she can benefit more from her husband than she does from me, and that way, I can save money as well?”
The fact that the team was able to convince the father out of this child marriage speaks volumes about the effectiveness of Aisha* and her colleagues’ work. Aisha* says that it was through the WELDD workshop that she acquired the tools to encourage individual support, and know how to approach the aspect of child marriage when a family is pursuing it. “This story is significant for me because it not only stands out in my personal history, but also because it shows how much I have leaned. I have grown both individually and professionally, and have a lot more knowledge now on how to handle socially delicate situations. I could not be gladder.”
*Name changed for the sake of anonymity