Over the past six years, the Africa Faith and Justice Network Women Empowerment Project (AFJN WEP) has been mobilizing and training sisters in advocacy in Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The training, part of the ongoing education of sisters, enables sisters to build coalition networks at the local, regional and national conference levels and to conduct advocacy events for change through grassroots mobilization. These activities have raised the profile of the sisters and given them a voice in the public square. Civil, religious, traditional, and political leaders now recognize the sisters as advocates for the vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society. Thanks to the Conrad Hilton Foundation (Sisters Initiative) for funding this initiative, organizational and individual members.
In October 2022, AFJN WEP received a three-year grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation (Sisters Initiative) to build the capacity of sisters and the local communities towards ending child and early marriage and domestic servitude in Ghana and Nigeria. These projects took off in Ghana and Nigeria in November and December 2022 respectively.
In Ghana, the project began in November 2022 with a four-day workshop on “the rights of the child” with particular focus on child and early marriage. The workshop aimed at educating and highlighting the issue of child and early marriage in Northern Ghana and forming a coalition of advocates who would be actively working with the sisters on their campaign against these practices. Currently in Ghana, 1 in 5 girls is married off before the age of 18 and 1 in 20 girls is married before the age of 15 despite the 1992 Constitution prohibiting the practice.
During the workshop, participants heard religious, cultural, and social perspectives from people well acquainted with this issue, including security personnel and victims of this practice. The workshop expanded the sisters’ network to include members of the local communities. The coalition is now engaging with eight communities in the Sagnarigu, Savelegu and Tolon districts working to bring new knowledge and reasoning to this practice. The communities’ enthusiasm to welcome our network and the massive attendance during our community engagements evidenced the need for this awareness program at the grassroots levels. Communities are taking a stand against early marriage and making decisions on how they will end this age-long practice based on the knowledge they acquired during these community meetings. Decision taken by these communities include:
- pledging to work together to strengthen family foundations through holding weekly family meetings
- banning an unsupervised weekly night dance club that exacerbated teenage pregnancies in the community
- encouraging and supporting girls who were married off early to go back to school
To ensure that young people have a proper avenue for leisure and recreation, our coalition has initiated a youth club for boys and girls. This club will create a space for young people to come together to play sports and learn basic social and literary skills. We hope that this club will stimulate interest in literary education, especially among girls. Currently, we have over 20 girls married off who are anxious to go back to school. Given that the families and communities live in poverty, these girls will not go back to school until they are helped financially. We are also keen in establishing parenting classes to hone the parents’ child raising skills which the communities pointed out as one of the drivers of early marriage.
Pictures from the Ghana workshop and community visitation:
In Nigeria, the project began in December 2022 with the four-day “Violence in Our homes: A Call to Urgent Action” workshop. Fifty-eight participants, twenty five sisters, and representatives from youth, men and women organizations in Enugu attended the workshop that were held at the Daughters of Divine Love Conference and Retreat Center (DRACC) in Enugu, Nigeria. In light of the Gospel, Catholic Social teaching, and child protection protocols of the Catholic Church, participants reflected on the various forms of violence and abuse found in Nigerian homes. Particular attention was given to the plight of underage girls working as “house girls” or domestic servants.
In Nigeria, “house girls” are usually employed by upper- and middle-class families with disposable income, mainly working women who rely on these children to ease their domestic load while they focus on their paid jobs. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTP) Act of 2015 criminalizes any person who employs, recruits, transports, harbors, receives, or hires out, a child under the age of twelve years as a domestic worker. The Child Rights Act of 2003 also bans the use of children as domestic servant to prevent the exploitation and abuse of children. Notwithstanding these laws, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that over 15 million underage girls still work as “house girls” and face all forms of physical, mental, and sexual abuse in the homes where their labor is exploited. Some of these girls often live under the conditions of a slave.
The participants paid an advocacy visit to the traditional ruler of Amorji Nike and engaged the community on these concerning issues, as part of their advocacy skills capacity building. They enlightened the community on Nigeria’s law and the Church’s stance on the rights and dignity of the child during their community engagement and awareness campaign. Afterwards, the chief and the entire community acknowledged the widespread acts of violence against domestic servants and the community’s lack of knowledge of the existing national protective laws for this vulnerable population. This engagement led to immediate community action which included:
- the prohibiting of any agent from recruiting their children as house girls
- the creation of a mechanism for tracking and monitoring the children already taken to the city for domestic servant work
It was evident that both the chief and the community took our visit seriously. Participants were happy to hear the chief say “this violence of the vulnerable girls is against [his] Catholic faith” and that he promised to be part of the advocacy campaign by assisting in mobilization of other traditional chiefs in the state for awareness and enlightenment programs any time.
Since the workshop, participants have been holding awareness campaigns in schools, churches, and local communities. These events help the people deepen their knowledge and understanding of these issues as well as encouraging actions at the grassroots levels.
Pictures of the group at a workshop in DRACC, visit to the chief, and IHM Sister: