Families believed that marrying off their girl child would get them out of poverty


By Harriet Chibuta & Joseph Eliabson Maniragena

 While global poverty rates have been cut by more than half since 2000, one in ten people in developing regions still live on less than US$ 1.90 per day – the internationally agreed poverty line.

We talked to Dorothy Chulu from Maiteneke area, and she told us her story about how she struggled for many years to make ends meet, as a breadwinner for her family. For many years she lived below the poverty line of US$ 1.90 per day. Maiteneke is situated in Chingola, Zambia, one of the communities as part of the Citizens Report initiative.

Dorothy is a 73 years old widow and her family depend on her for financial support. She lives with her three children and three grandchildren who are dependent on her. For many years, she has been struggling to make ends meet, until she was given a piece of land for her to farm.

Dorothy started doing small scale farming through which she supports her family. Even when she started having a small source of income, she still could not cover all of her family’s needs. Sometimes harvest as well as selling of her crops does not go well, and she cannot afford the things that are needed to maintain the farm. She does not have any support from the government in terms of getting subsidies for buying farming inputs or fertilizers.

The Citizens Report conducted in 2018 revealed that the biggest challenge which small scale farmers face and are a big threat to their livelihood is the change in the weather pattern due to the impact of climate change. It is very difficult to predict the onset of the rains nowadays.

As a result of not being able to afford the farming inputs for the past two years, her children and grandchildren could not afford going to school.

She expressed that she does not wish her children or grandchildren to end up like her – uneducated. She wishes for them to be educated so that their future can be better than hers.

“In my time, growing up as a girl, we were not allowed or offered the opportunity to go to school. It was believed that a girl child should stay at home and do house chores, then later get married,” said Dorothy.

She said that during those times, some families believed that marrying off their girl child would get them out of poverty, and she does not believe in that, hence she would like for her children to be empowered through education.

Education empowers people to get out of poverty,” she said.

Dorothy words confirmed the Citizens Report findings which suggested that in the past, boys were often socialized to herd the family’s cattle and engage in other typically “male” activities. Girls on the other hand, were initiated into womanhood and prepared for domestic responsibilities, such as household chores, childcare, and water and firewood collection. Parents gave priority to the schooling of boys over girls because girls were not seen to benefit from education.

Several key factors prevent youths from attending school; for girls, pregnancy is a major contributor towards them dropping out of school. For boys, the biggest contributor towards out of school is the costs that are associated with school fees, student travel to and from school, and school boarding costs are prohibitively expensive for many households in Zambia.

The good news however is that in recent years there has been an increase in the number of all children, boys and girls, admitted into school. Parents are beginning to see that well-educated youths (regardless of their gender) are able to acquire good jobs as teachers, soldiers, and police officers, for example.

We would also like to applaud Chieftainess Nkomeshya in Chongwe who have been very strong on discouraging early marriages. They have set up village courts to punish families that force young girls into marriage.

As the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, education helps young women and girls become fully engaged citizens. We need to overturn the deeply rooted stereotypes and social norms that see girls as less deserving of an education. We need this more than ever.



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