by Mikaela Ramdial
Last month our team had the opportunity to attend an amazing conference that is offered once every three years that focuses on women’s development across the World.
At the conference, I learned that according to the ONE Foundation’s research on the 20 toughest places to be born a girl, Niger is top of the list. This means that out of the entire world, Nigerien women have the least chances in life compared to their brothers. The numbers in that data actually represent real girls, including the students at NVOC. On one hand, I know the girls here to not only be resilient but to also be dreamers.
One reason why Niger is rated so high is that the rate of girls’ education is 16 months less than the boys. It can be difficult to keep a girl in school: there are expectations on her to stay home and run the household. If there is any extra work at the house, she must stay behind and help. Also, as child marriage is frequent (76% of girls are married off under the age of 18!), a girl will leave school to take care of her husband’s home. In spite of all of the obstacles, girls still want to go to school.
Take Fatiya for instance. She became pregnant out of wedlock and she was deeply shamed for it by the community. Now she brings little Nazifatou to school each day even despite the same and the challenge it is to learn with a baby on her lap. But she has a dream of opening a boutique full of beauty products where she would sell clothes and her sisters would braid hair or do henna. She just needs the money and the education. The girls in this family are very poor and they struggle to attend every day of school but they have goals for their future and they plan to accomplish them. They were born into deep limits yet they are working past them.
Another indicator on the report is how dangerous it is for women in Niger to give birth. One in 20 women dies giving birth here. This is close to our hearts at NVOC because there are currently 3 graduate students who are pregnant and one for sure is at risk for high blood pressure and has had several late term miscarriages. They face real risks to have a family. One of the graduates gave birth to twins in November and she nearly died of heart failure. This also means that if she becomes pregnant again, she will almost certainly not make it. But in a culture where having children is a woman’s most valuable asset and where infertility can be grounds for divorce; it is a hard reality to know that she won’t survive another pregnancy. Indeed, her husband left right when her twins were born and it became obvious she was very sick. And yet she says that she still believes in a happy marriage and hopes that God still has that in store for her. Despite her culture and her health, she still hopes for marriage and happiness for her small family.
Our girls at NVOC may have been born into the toughest place to be a girl but they are not to be victimized. They still have plans and aspirations. They are waiting to seize any opportunity they get to better the lives of their families and participate in their communities. Girls here just need to be empowered to do all that they want to do.