Girl force: unscripted and unstoppable

Articles - General

International Day of the girl child was celebrated in Asmara at the National Union of Eritrean women Hall. The international day of the girl child is being remembered for the third time in Eritrea. This year, day of the girl child was remembered under the theme “Girl force: unscripted and unstoppable”. On the event a number of Government and PFDJ officials, members of the diplomatic corps, students and guests attended. The event featured many programs including lectures, dramas, poems and songs.

International Day of the girl child was celebrated in Asmara at the National Union of Eritrean women Hall. The international day of the girl child is being remembered for the third time in Eritrea. This year, day of the girl child was remembered under the theme “Girl force: unscripted and unstoppable”. On the event a number of Government and PFDJ officials, members of the diplomatic corps, students and guests attended. The event featured many programs including lectures, dramas, poems and songs.

Ms. Tekea Tesfamichael, president of the NUEW, gave her speech on the importance of education. She said, “Educated and empowered girls are keen to taking the lead and that education is a tool which ensures their growth and development.” Stressing on the importance of education, Ms.Tekea Tesfamichael also informed that educating girls is the key to achieving true equality.

When we say girls, it refers to those in school whose age is below 18. And, the main task of such event is to raise awareness and avoid challenges girls encounter in Eritrea, such as under age marriage, lack of education and harmful traditional practices including circumcision.

Over the years, the attitude and initiative of parents and the society on sending their girl child to school was low. As a result, girls have been victim to outdated traditional way of spending their time at home doing household chores. Especially in rural areas, girls were forced to withdraw from school and get married at a young age. These days however, education has been expanded by building schools in remote rural areas thereby providing education opportunity for all. Moreover, raising the awareness of the society on education has encouraged parents to send their young girls to school.

Ms. Senait Mehari, Head of the social and economic services in the Union, stated that this year, the focus was given to endorsing girls on education. That way, girls will be able to play their part in the political and socio-economic development of the country.

As part of the ongoing effort, the NUEW has played a leading role in fighting illiteracy in Eritrea. The Union has been fighting against the discrimination against girls on education, capacity upgrading and training. Furthermore, many girls have taken vocational training and acquired skills that help them become self-reliant.

Child marriage was also another harmful practice which violates a child right. Many girls who are married before they turn 18 are forced to withdraw from school depriving them their right to education and future achievements. Also, these girls are at higher risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications. In Eritrea, especially in rural areas, child marriage has been common. However through the efforts made by the NUEW and other concerned organizations, under-age marriage has tremendously declined. However, in order to fully eliminate child marriage, persistent effort is also essential. Furthermore, to end child marriage, any girl should be aware of her legal rights and the society’s awareness should increase.

Another harmful traditional practice that has been common in most places of Eritrea is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). So far, the NUEW has been working hard to eradicate this harmful practice by raising the awareness of the society. Additionally, the establishment of Anti-FMG and under age marriage (UAM) committee throughout the nation at grass-root level since 2006 is the effective innovative strategy to fight and eliminate these harmful traditional practices. So far, a total of 548 committees with 4,534 members nationwide are functioning at all levels and are working effectively. As a result, so much progress has been shown in different parts of Eritrea. It can be said that FGM is at the edge of eradication. Girls sexual abuse, gender based violence and child labor which endangered the safety of adolescent girls are also other issues raised on the event.

When it comes to discrimination, Eritrean government has made an immediate amendment of the colonial laws right after independence and introduced the core intervention towards elimination any form of discrimination in 1991. In that case, all national laws have been strictly reviewed and all articles, clauses, statements, adjectives even words that discriminate and belittle women were either repealed or amended and new laws enacted that promote women’s/ girls rights. And the government has been working on the ground to eliminate all the discrimination that girls face in all areas of their lives.

The legal rights of Eritrean girls were also read on the occasion that was held in Asmara in which many school girls attended. The aim of the event was to enhance their knowledge on their civil and legal rights so as to stand and fight back when they are wronged.

The important laws that directly concern girls were;

Discriminations;

Any form of discrimination is prohibited by law

Child marriage;

The Eritrean transitional civil code (article 581 and 329) mentions marriageability age is attainment of 18 years. The proclamation No. 1/1991 of the GoSE specifies that any contract of marriage made between persons (spouses) below 18 years of age is null and void, and that the spouse and witnesses to such marriage shall be punished under the penal code (Art 614)

Female Genital Mutilation(FMG);

The proclamation No. 158/2007 abolished Circumcision and underlines that ‘FGM violates women’s basic human rights by depriving them of their physical and mental integrity freedom from violence and discrimination, and in extreme case, their life’, and the penalties for practicing FMG-C, is imprisonment two to three years and five thousand up to ten thousand Nakfa fine. And, in case of those who incite, promote and make request for FGM-C is punishable with one to six-month imprisonment and a fine of three thousand Nakfa as an accomplice to the crime.

Violence

Anyone who commits crime related to violence against women, such as rape (article 589), sexual outrages accompanied by violence at various level (Art 590-599), physical assault (article 537) grave injury (article 538/539) is brought to the court.

Besides, special institutional measures were proclaimed to endorse girls to take equal part as their male counterparts in education. The proclamation states:

•    Reserving minimum of 30% participation allocation for girls in technical and vocational education and training

•    Hostels and boarding schools built to promote participation of rural girls in education

•    Sanitation facilities built in schools, including preparing affordable sanitary towels for girls

•    Free school uniform and books for economically disadvantaged girls

•    Free bicycles for girls outstanding performance

•    Provision of donkey and canvas for fetching water thereby saving time for schooling

Also during the event, two successful girls who were able to continue their education despite the challenges they faced, gave their testimonies.¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬ Fatima Hamid and Asmait Hadish are both role models and proofs of the truth that girls force is unscripted and unstoppable.

Born in Nakfa, Fatima’s parents divorced at her young age and she was compelled to support her family at a young age.  With her family’s constant push for marriage and the negative attitude of her surrounding towards girls and education, it was unlikely for her to finish school. However, persistently, she managed to finish school and joined college. Today, Fatima is a biology graduate working at the PFDJ higher institutions board, after completing her service for three years in sawa.

Asmait is also another example. Born in a village around the town of Mendefera, she was compelled to walk 11 kilometers a day. Until 8th grade, she managed to carry on with her studies without anyone’s support, while doing all the household work at home. In 9th grade, she went to a boarding school and later joined college. Through hard work and determination, she finished college successfully with a diploma and again upgraded to pursue her study in civil engineering. Today, Asmait is among the outstanding students in the faculty. Both girls have survived the gender-biased environment and achieved their goals despite all the challenges any girl could face.

Noting that the International Day of the Girl child has been celebrated since 2012 across the world to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face, the coordinator of the United Nations Offices in Eritrea, Ms. Susan Namondi Ngongi, praised the Government of Eritrea and the NUEW for their effort in ensuring equal opportunity for all citizens. And so far Eritrea has witnessed an outstanding progress in ensuring the safety of a girl, by creating a healthy and safe environment for a girl child.