When Aaliyah first got married, she got in trouble because her new family had to buy her a stepstool. Without it, she was too short to reach the stove or sink to take care of her duties in the kitchen. She was 14, and her husband was 26. But Aaliyah’s
family was very poor and her parents were illiterate. She doesn’t know how to read or write, and did not have any marketable skills. There didn’t seem to be any other options for her. This is true for many women in Egypt, where only 24% of women have paying jobs.
The expectation in rural areas is that women will marry, have children, and take care of the household. There are not many other paths open to women with no education.
In a recent CARE meeting to raise awareness about child marriage in the Menya Governorate of Egypt, Aaliyah decided to tell her story. “My mother in law was very rough with me, she kept insulting me all the time. My husband started beating me for every mistake. The family kept me doing all household chores and serving the whole family, so I miscarried my first and second pregnancies. I never had the chance to get and ante-natal health care.”
Aaliyah is not just worried about what has happened to her, but also about the impacts on her children. She is afraid that her lack of alternatives will pass to the next generation. Aaliyah says, “Now I am only 26 years old with three children, but I feel guilty as I could not raise them the way I should.
I did not know about breastfeeding or child nutrition, so my kids are very weak like me. I did not know to get my first child a birth certificate, so he could not join school and lost his chance to get vaccinations. I insisted on getting birth certificates for the other 2 kids. But my oldest child will have a poor family because he is not educated.”
Aliyah found the strength to change her life, and go find other options. She got a job, and is working to join literacy classes so she can learn to read and write. “I decided to change my lifestyle, so I joined the factory to work and earn some money to raise my kids in a better way. For the first time, I feel like a human being
and could face my own problems and tell my story to others; mainly to mothers to advise them not to marry their girls early. I want women to allow their daughters to continue their studies in order to be able to face the difficulties of marriage, man demand and children needs. I do not want other girls to suffer from all the problems I had faced.”
Having new choices makes all the difference to Aaliyah. With her new job and skills, she not only has the resources to make changes for her own children, but also the confidence to speak up. She wants to tell her story so that the next generation of girls can have options besides a stressful marriage where both girls and their children suffer. We need to work with girls, families, and communities to make sure that there are alternatives.
About the Program: Giving girls alternatives to marriage that are acceptable and safe for both them and their families is one of CARE’s critical strategies. CARE Egypt has run the program “Basic life option for Girls; Early Marriage Project” in Menya Governorate in Upper Egypt since 2012. The project focuses on giving people the space to change behavior by supporting open dialogue in communities between parents and children (boys and girls aged 11-16 years old). Building on CARE`s long-term expertise at raising corporate sector workplace awareness, we also work with corporations to provide alternatives, and tackled early marriage problems in a factory in Menya where they recruit young women and men. Read more about CARE's work on child marriage at www.care.org/childmarriage
About the Author: Dr. Zeinab is a gynecologist with a master’s degree in Adult Education from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Heada holds a diploma in Civil Society, Democracy and Human Rights from Cairo University. Dr. Zeinab has been working with CARE International in Egypt since 2005, now she is Senior Technical Advisor for Health and Manager of Early Marriage Project. She also works on engaging the private sector/ Corporate to acknowledge the importance of working place health awareness mainly for HIV/AIDS and other health topics.
Name changed to protect her identity
“Labor force participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15+) (modeled ILO estimate)” World Bank