one day: ending violence against women

Last Thursday I represented my local partner at a special event marking “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women” – and most specifically, to highlight a joint project by UNIFEM, ACT!ONAID and PLACEEN (Plateforme des Acteurs de la Communauté Éducative de l’Extreme-Nord) fighting against violence againts girls in and outside of school.

Their goal was stated on a banner stretched across the entrance to the École Publique du Pont Vert, as well as across the tent that housed all the assembled guests:

“Boutons les marriages précoces, les surcharges des travaux ménagers hors de nos sociétés et établissons les actes de naissance à nos filles pour favoriser leur education”

My translation:  Let’s get rid of early marriages and excess loading of household chores and let’s establish birth certificates for our girls to encourage their access to an education.

The functionaries assembled, including the Sous-Préfet and other esteemed Délégués’ representatives, used beautiful language to express the need for support in this area.  They spoke of the need for support in the sensitization to violence against girls, access to education, and mobilization of the community.  They talked about the millennium development goals and the respect of the rights of women and girls.  One brave individual even dared speak of the dangers of misinterpreting religious texts.

Although powerful and, no doubt, heartfelt, it could not hold a candle to the voices of the children themselves.

In front of distinguished guests, school administrators and all of the school’s students (at least a thousand strong), a dozen students – girls and boys – put on skits to illustrate their take on the issues.

The first dealt with the early marriage of a 12 year old girl –the consequences of this: an end to going to school.  While the teacher pleaded and pleaded with the mother and aunts to keep the girl in school, their response was that it was “time” – “she’s as old as we were, so she must be married now”.  No better luck with the father who said the “dowry” had already been provided and spent.

The second skit covered the rape of a young girl by a teacher  the ensuing pregnancy, and her fight for justice.  The students built into their performance plot elements to show the difficulties of getting police assistance and how corruption prevented the girl from getting true restitution.  “I want him to pay for what he did”, the girl said repeatedly.  Yet from the Commissionaire de Police, she was to get only a fraction of the fine – the rest greased the pockets of others.

Think these are extreme cases?  Not really.  This is the local reality told from the mouth of pre-teens – expressing their fears for an uncertain future. However, it also spoke volumes about their hope for the opportunity at an education.  These children know.  They aren’t afraid to tell.

Some of the arguments, comments, and dialogue in the skits drew laughter from the assembled adults.  However, it would be fair to say that their chuckles came from a truer reflection of reality, rather than from comedy.  And this is the reality that organizations like my local partner – and countless others in the Extreme-North – are trying to change.

Ending violence against women and girls is a fight that needs all the players’ attention.

**this blog post is a two-part cross-posting with “awareness: an end to violence against women” on [co]imagen coaching’s blog**

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~ by Caroline Spira on December 1, 2009.

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