Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)
Battering of women in rural households is one among the many violent and un-dignifying experiences that women face in conjugal life. Most often, this is done in front of the kids who either join their mother to cry, hate their fathers or develop disrespect for their mothers whom ‘daddy’ beats like he does to them (the kids) too. Despite these, the law criminalizing the battering of women in Cameroon to say the least is very poorly enforced especially in rural settings where cases of violence are treated by traditional leaders.
Such violence further nurtures fear in young girls keeping them at the voiceless corner when it comes to participation. It is also very traumatizing as kids and teachers have reported significant repercussions on the academic performance of children in school who experience this. At RuWCED, we are raising awareness on these repercussions, doing advocacy and networking to help end these form of violence.
“I have to work all day for my mistress to get a tuber of cassava to feed my kids. We have no land of our own”. Said the woman on this picture
We work to empower local communities on issues of land use, food security and environmental conservation. We also network with government agencies and INGOs, to provide the needed training and possible market opportunities. Hunger is becoming a very pertinent issue to food security in rural areas with some widows from matrilineal succession are suffering the most. To help them start a new life after the death of their husbands and also secure their family food needs, we rent farm land and or provide seeds. The situation is worst for women in the forest regions (‘pygmies’).
Sexual Reprudoctive Health Rights (SRHR)
Considering that in some rural communities girls are still being given to marriage as early as years and to men who sometimes double or triple their ages, they tend to have no voice in negotiating for safe sex and their family sizes just to name a few. Oppression from their already very elderly husbands and total ignorance on reproductive health contribute to this voicelessness. On the one hand, these children leave primary school (for those who go) without any basic knowledge about reproduction and on the other hand, there is the culture of silence around sex and sex education at home which deprives them of learning from their mothers.
They therefore face marriage in a very ignorant and unprepared way and are forced to embrace other ensuing consequences which my span up to and include maternal and infantile deaths. We are interested in disrupting such as social system by promoting reproductive education for the girl child. To do this, we employ formal and informal methods during our sanitary pad distribution programs. We are currently setting up a mobile rural reproductive health education center in our organization where our nurses will offer intensive three weeks courses quarterly to both already married women and girls at the verge of marriage. Women who excel well and spread the knowledge gained will benefit educational assistance for their girl children in secondary schools.
HIV/AIDS(adolescents, youths, mother to child transmission, support groups)
HIV/AIDS Prevention, Screening and anti-stigma Education
RuWCED embarks on a Division wide HIV/AIDS prevention, care, nutrition and anti-stigma education program aimed atreaching
50,000 youths in the 13 villages of Ngoketunjia Division of the North West Region of Cameroon. Thirty nine peer educators trained from
the 13 villages, educational and support outreaches on-going, free and voluntary mass screening on-going at our hubs in the different villages.
Water Sanitation and Hygien (WASH)
Health and Sanitation within Schools
Majority of women and girls in rural areas cannot afford sanitary pads during menstruation. We offer health talks every week to different schools and demonstrate to young girls how to use pads. This project aims at improving the level of health and sanitation within primary and secondary schools.
Reproductive Education for Rural Girls and Women
The Rural Women Center for Education and Development (RuWCED)-Cameroon is a community led grass root not-for-profit organisation that works with rural women and girls in the areas of reproductive health and STIs, agriculture, girl child education, violence and discrimination. We provide sanitary napkins to primary school pupils, give small scholarships to underprivileged girls and orphans whose mothers passed out at child birth or related event (children orphaned by maternal mortality), organise reproductive health education lessons and also give transport assistance to women and girls living with HIV/AIDS to go for antiretrovirals. We are also trying to get connections with doctors to come to the villages where we work and do monthly consultations for women and girls since access to proper health care services is yet a dream for most of these rural women and girls.
Problems this project is trying to address
In most parts or rural Cameroon, there is a culture of silence around sex. Talking about sexual education among young unmarried girls is even considered perversion and a taboo (spoiling the children). Worst still, there are no lessons on sex education in most rural primary school since they do not offer domestic science lessons. The topic Human Reproduction is only taught in the last two classes of secondary schools and to those studying sciences (Biology/Human biology). However, sexuality related issues continue to top the list of factors determining rural birth rates, adolescent pregnancy, crude abortion, maternal death and other related reproductive health challenges which most governments are facing. Teenage pregnancy and school dropouts, crude abortions of unwanted babies, extremely large family size are among the population challenges facing rural girls and parents who even try to educate their girl children pass primary school level. Our research on this topic in most rural communities where we work suggest that:
- Most primary school girls are already mature by the time they and in their last years. However, they have no idea about what puberty is all about. Most of them are not even aware of sanitary napkins and the few who know cannot afford. This pushes them to use dirty and infected old cloths.
- Since girls are not taught in primary schools (their highest level of education for those who even attain) and at home, their mothers do not talk about it with them. Sex education “Is a thing you discover” and most women go into marriage without even being able to understand their menstrual cycles properly. Out of 200 women interviewed, only 25% of them knew how to count their menstrual circle and had heard of a family planning method outside the use of condoms (which their husbands refuse to use most often). Of this 25%, only 10% could explain how at least one family method works bought contraceptives from street vendors which often lead to further complications. The rest of the women depended on traditional herbs, abstinence during breastfeeding. This was further found to be a cause of most of the unreported domestic rape occurring in most rural families since husbands turned to feel deprived. Also, such sexual deprivation caused some husbands to go in for polygamous marriages which has been seen as a cause of further infidelity, increased STIs, large family size, violence and poverty just to name a few.
Our research found that the major cause of this is the fact that in rural areas (where majority of Cameroonian population reside, larger family sizes are found and increased rate of maternal mortality prevail), girls are not educated or at the most, they leave school at the primary level where reproductive health is not part of the curriculum and at home, their parents do not educate them on how to manage sex and reproductive health. In this way, it was observed that the rural girl goes into marriage unprepared and ignorant about many reproductive health issues which further pave the way for more social troubles.
More so, in the rural communities where we work, the labelling of HIV/AIDS to promiscuity and the stigma of being HIV positive has gone a long way to frighten women and young girls from going for tests. Following a recent survey that we did in some villages of the Northwest Region, 70% of the women refused to go for tests quoting that" knowing that you are HIV positive kills more than the disease itself" meanwhile, the virus is claiming many lives.
How this project is making a difference within communities
We have started a mobile rural reproductive health education program in our organization where our nurses offer intensive 2-3weeks courses to both already married women and girls. Women who excel well and spread the knowledge gained while encouraging other women to join benefit educational assistance for their girl children in secondary schools. Also, already menstruating primary school girls (who are seen as ‘ripe’ for marriage) are offered sanitary napkins and those who excel well and influence their peers through peer education to join our program receive educational assistance in secondary school. Also, women and girls living with HIV/AIDS who open up are given financial assistance to get antiretroviral since it is very difficult for most of them to access it either due to shame and stigma, or its accessibility or due to poverty.
Sport for Health and education
Sport for every girl and woman in Cameroon
For many years, sport has been one of the most important socio-cultural learning experiences for boys and men. These
benefits should be afforded our women and girls too. There are many advantages for girls and women to get involved in sport:
Girls who do sports have stronger immune systems and run a reduced risk of chronic illnesses later in life
such as; high blood pressure, diabetes, endometrial, colon and breast cancers, as well as heart diseases.
Girls involved in sporting activities have lighter and more regular periods and experience less cramping and discomfort during their
menses. Physical activity and sport can boost the mental, psychological and spiritual health of rural girls and women.
Girls and women who are involved in sporting activities have a more positive body image and experience
higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not get involved in sporting activities.
Our Handball team relaxing after a victory match. At the Rural Women Center for Education and
Development-RuWCED, we are making a difference.
Girl Child Education
RuWCED brings together traditional leaders, parents, teachers and girls in elementary school to discuss girl child education as an option against child marriages. The female led RuWCED team used their achievements to challenge parents and traditional leaders to send their daughters to school. This challenge has urged parents to come up to us to solicit sponsorship/assistance for their girl children in school.
The statement of ‘free universal primary education’ is pretty deceptive for planners who think free education means access to education. Enrolling in school, staying in school, graduating from school with knowledge that can improve the entire human living are very separate realities especially in the rural world. Going to school with an empty stomach, closing from school and meeting your mom in the farm to enable her pay your development fee of 5-15 US dollars, coming back home to sleep in darkness because of no lamp, or kerosene and not being able to do your class assignments are just a few of the many typical routine lives of rural Cameroonian kids in school. In these conditions, any man who comes to marry a kid is considered a liberator and the kid has no choice but to go and restart the poverty cycle.
Educating a girl child is giving her the confidence to face the future, empowering her to take decisions for herself, as well as giving her a lifeline to development.
Working to prevent forced marriages in the North West Region
of Cameroon, as a way to keep young girls in school
This video shows just one of the many questions being asked on a daily basis in rural Cameroon by young girls.
Details of our current Initiative
For now, our fundraising initiative is what we call “RuWCED’S tri-package educational sponsorship program”. This model is based on our believe that, for vulnerable rural girls to be fully empowered and escape the traps of illiteracy, STIs/maternal deaths, poverty and violence, they need: to be educated, to understand sexual and reproductive issues, as well as the need to be able to create wealth. Since reproductive health education is often a no talk issue in rural primary schools and even in secondary schools for those girls not doing the sciences, the tri -components of our package include: Educational sponsorships, Reproductive health lectures and Livestock for economic sustenance.
Before we proceed further to elaborate on this tri-package, it is important to say something on the characteristics of the villages in which we work. The villages in which we offer sponsorships are either those in which, none or if existent, few rural female and orphans have been able to obtain a Bachelor degree, or those in which matrilineal succession is practiced. The common characteristics of such villages are that, girl children tend to be very much vulnerable to child marriages (which they enter into without ever getting basic lectures on puberty and reproductive health), teenage pregnancies, child trafficking (taken to work as house maids in the cities where, they end up being abused, exploited and chased away without pay), become the victims and vectors of HIV/AIDS and other STIs. In this regards, maternal mortality and violence are a few among the many resulting outcomes, since the girls go into marriage without even knowing the basics or and importance of reproductive health. More so, most of these villages do not have health centres. Thus, these child brides after becoming pregnant proceed to birth at home or with untrained Traditional Birth Attendants and the cycle starts over again.
In this context, how can(has) focusing on education help(ed)?
The benefits of education to a girl child are numerous and have been widely published spanning from (reduction of violence, maternal deaths, raising healthy kids, just to list bit a few). However, in the context of the communities in which we work, there are additional benefits that may not have been brought to light;
- In matrilineal succession, a man’s possessions including his account are taken up by his nephew/brother upon his death. This is often done with the claim that they will be the guardian of their brother’s family in his absence and belief that, only the mother (widow) knows the true father of her children. According to such a belief there is no guarantee that children in the conjugal home were truly those of the deceased and thus, have not right to succeed him, even though they are his children.
- Livelihood assets belong to men while child bearing and household food needs are the women’s responsibilities. Thus, an educated rural girl who gets a job or business of her own will have her own bank account as well as her own livelihood assets with which she can access in the absence of her husband and use to take care of herself and her kids.
- In matrilineal succession, the rural girls get married as children following customary laws which are not recognized by the state. In this way, they do not have marriage certificates and cannot pursue any legal case with successors who dispossess them of their legal belongings. An educated girl will chose her partner (often from other tribes) or, insist on a court (legally recognized) marriage. Although a cumbersome procedure, an educated girl can seek for justice and with a slide push, she can obtain justice for herself and her children.
- Upon her husband’s death, an educated widow will rarely be coerced into unwanted sexual relations and/or physical violence. She will raise her kids without having them being given to marriage as children or trafficked to work as housemaids in urban cities.
- Many economically independent educated rural girls will be able to run their families, thus, escaping the trap and consequences of matrilineal succession which until now remains a dilemma for them. In this light, focusing on the education of girls from communities which practices matrillineal succession will to a great extent, successfully revert the consequences of “a very discriminatory and violent culture” while contributing to both human and socio-economic development.
Why a tri-Package?
Enrolling, staying, graduating and getting at least a minimal job or business requires at least four things from rural children most especially girls. This is based on the experiences from the communities in which we are working, as well as our own personal experiences (a majority of us at the Rural Women Center for Education and Development were born and reared in rural families). These four things include;
1- A goal and determination. (Rural girls and youths proved this to us after our role model workshop during which, we invited inspiring young women who also grew up in conditions similar to theirs to give talks).
2- Fees and supplies. (Rural girls have no or little access to these resources).
3- Basic reproductive health education. (There is a culture of silence around sex education both in schools, as well as at home. These children only often learn from their experiences which in the most part leave them with scars that impinge on their academics; either a poorly managed menstruation which stains them and keeps them away from school due to shyness and stigma, or a pregnancy or, an STI because of ignorance.)
4- A continued source of income to ensure their basic needs (sanitary napkins/toilet rolls, rents, food etc.).
What do we Give?
At Rural Women Center for education and Development, we provide a packaged gift of 2, 3, and 4 which we consider to be three interwoven components: (Educational Sponsorships for ‘2’, Reproductive health education for ‘3’ and a livestock for ‘4’, to ensure that, our sponsees stay and graduate from school while gaining other live skills (generating income through the livestock).
In this project, our focus is on item 2 (Educational Sponsorships). Items 3 and 4 are just complementary. The approach has already shown its success with our very first sponsees amongst whom is a divorcee (married at 16 and, at 18, her husband beat and chased her away with a baby boy). Today, her son is passed to primary four. She has her advance level and a small business and is preparing to write the national nursing competitive entrance examination. In her case, we gave her package ‘2’ and ‘3’ and, as well as a piece of land to cultivate (rent free). She still cultivates it until today. After seeing her success, her elder sister (a widow) has gone back to school. This is indeed breaking barriers in a community where women are being reared just for marriage.
How do we do it?
We use the most cost effective approach which consists of, organizing a compulsory intensive 2-3days workshop for all our sponsees and their mothers prior to the awards of the sponsorship. During these workshops, we invite the following people who normally are workers or originated from the same location as the grantees.
1. A medical doctor including our nurses to give lectures on reproductive health education on HIV and STIs such as to prevent or at least, reduce the incidence of new infection and or pregnancies among our participants.
2. An agricultural/livestock expert to give a lecture on sustainable faming and rearing.
3. A successful female role model (could be a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor) who grew up in rural conditions to boost the motivation of the grantees.
4. We also invite an academic counsellor.
These workshops also aim at enabling the grantees and or their mothers to; feel free to consult the doctor, counsellor or agricultural officer for advice in case of need. Also, since the girls and their mothers listen to the reproductive and sex-educational lessons, the culture of silence around sex education in rural homes is gradually being broken and girls can freely seek advice from their mothers during the academic year. When we have a few boys in our list, they rather listen to a talk on “not being violent against women”. This is often delivered by a man. The grantees become our ambassadors of “responsible sexual and community behaviour” where during holidays, they come up with their own peer sensitization programs (we normally give small awards for the most creative programs).
After the seminar/workshop, the sponsorships are given out (supplies only). We pay the fees and examination fees ourselves for fear that; the children can be harassed home by their parents or relations). We also give a livestock (a pig, a goat or few fowls) to the grantee and her mother. In extreme cases where the grantee and her mother prefer to use the money to rent farm land, buy seeds or start a small business, we give them the money value of the livestock. Normally, domestic livestock rearing is something that many families (who can buy an offspring of the livestock) do using local knowledge. So, we only give the local breeds that do not require any complicated biotechnological feeding processes.
To ensure responsibility, accountability and sustainability of our limited funds, our role is that, at the end of the academic year, each grantee hands down he(r) text books together with one offspring of their livestock to a new grantee. In the case where money was given to the grantee’s mother, we expect a 15 USD repayment such that it can be given to the next grantee.
After the award of the sponsorships, what happens next?
After the awards, the program administrator goes round the schools on a monthly basis to ensure that, the grantees are making satisfactory academic progress and that, all is well with their livestock. At the end of each academic term, they send photocopies of their progress reports to us.
Obligations of our sponsees:
Our sponsees must agree to; -Submit at least three main career dreams that they wish to pursue, -Send their semester progress reports-Give quarterly reports on the progress of their live stocks, -Give one of the offspring of their livestock to the new sponsee of the upcoming year, -Hand back the text books at the end of the year so that we can give them to new sponsees, -Attain our quarterly two hour seminar/workshop, -Be ambassadors of our Reproductive health and HIV program to their peers.
Civic Engagement and local Accountability in service provision
We promote citizen's participation in democratic governance in Cameroon by enabling women/girls and youths to take part in elections, as well as demand political accountability from their locally elected leaders on their campaign promises.