More to life than marriage: helping girls make an informed choice

In her last post, Katy wrote about how girls should have the choice to whether they want to get married or not. But what if that choice is ill informed?

Empowering girls to make their own decisions is a key factor in eradicating early and forced marriage. However this does not always result in positive choices.

When I was a teenage girl, like most teenagers, I was very impressionable and easily persuaded by the latest trends, what my friends and peers said or did, and my immediate surroundings. Therefore my views and choices reflected the world around me.

And I think it’s fair assumption to make that most young teenagers are very similar in that respect. 

Many girls growing up in rural villages in developing countries will not have the exposure to the true potential of what women can achieve.  For them life doesn’t broaden much beyond their home and village where experience and tradition dictates women should be confined to marriage, motherhood and a domesticated life. The importance of education is not placed upon women as they are not able to obtain the greater opportunities seemingly ring-fenced to males.

So how are girls supposed to make informed decisions that will progress their lives further when their day to day surroundings all point to the same thing - marriage!?

Zambian woman, 20, married at 15 [Credit: Plan International/Vincent Tremeau]

Zambian woman, 20, married at 15 [Credit: Plan International/Vincent Tremeau]

Nicola Jones draws on a recent report from UNICEF Ethiopia, which echoes this argument, ‘Girls are choosing to demonstrate their newfound decision making by marrying of their own accord, without informing their parents.’

Girls are taught from a young age marriage is their destiny, a way to lift themselves out of poverty. So what better way to take control of their lives by marrying a man THEY choose, paving their OWN path in life.

But, as we know, this more than often does not result in the dream life they had hoped for.

In the World Service documentary ‘Forgotten Girls of Dhaka’, Monica, a young girl who is waiting to marry her 18 year old boyfriend, is featured. Her confirmation wedding is postponed until her groom’s elder brother is married (tradition states you cannot marry before your elder siblings). She is upset by this, but in a way likened to her being dumped by a school boyfriend. The understanding of what marriage actually means is just not apparent.

As the BBC reporter, Farhana Haider, puts it ‘It’s peer pressure, if [Monica] knows her friends are getting married it’s the equivalent of getting a boyfriend, not the equivalent of having a husband, and a family, and moving away from her mother and starting life somewhere else.’

If I had watched all my friends marry young, with no real sense of career opportunities, it is hard to see how my teenage self would have not fallen for the same fairytale ending.

In countries such as Bangladesh, the harsh realities of marrying as a young girl are just not spoken about. Girls do not understand what they are getting themselves into. Ranya, whose story I shared in my last post, wished she had had the knowledge of what it truly means to be a wife before she reluctantly agreed to marriage. Her one piece of advice was to educate girls about the unhappy reality of being a child bride in order to prevent more girls falling victim to marriage.

Therefore we need to not only teach girls they have a voice, but how they should use that to make something more of themselves, get an education, and marry when they are knowingly ready. Empowerment takes time and needs to be nurtured in the right way otherwise girls will struggle to understand the cycle they need to break out of.

Further watching: A very heartbreaking short documentary that captures the tragedy of Child Marriage in Bangladesh: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2016/01/young-wed-child-marriage-bangladesh-160111134944655.html