A main focus of the Slaight Livelihood and Gender Equality Fund is to address the deep-rooted gender inequalities and harmful traditional practices that are endemic in the project area.
In year three, the project, funded by the Slaight Family Foundation in partnership with Canadian Feed The Children's family of supporters, was able to initiate important work to address the entrenched attitudes and beliefs that serve to perpetuate gender-based violence, early marriage, and other harmful traditional practices (HTPs) that are prevalent in the eastern Amhara Region of Ethiopia.
Trainings for religious leaders, teachers, PTA members, law enforcement personnel and others have helped raise awareness of the devastating consequences of HTPs on girls’ and women’s lives and enlist community support in abolishing them. Concrete action plans emerged from these sessions and are being implemented now.
These action plans – now being implemented across the region – are a sea change for these communities.
Participants have realized that the challenges of the education system are the traditional and cultural practices of the community. This is a really significant attitudinal and action-oriented change for schools.
Enlisting the support of schools and teachers
In June 2022, two rounds of training were conducted for 90 school inspectors and PTA members, facilitated by implementing partner CHADET and experts from the zonal education bureau. In December 2022, similar training was provided to 60 primary school teachers to increase their involvement in the prevention of harmful traditional practices and in raising awareness among parents and in their communities about the value of girls’ education.
In the past, teachers did not consider this part of their role, and the training helped them see the bigger picture and how they can promote gender equality and women’s and girls’ well-being.
The training has helped me see the impact of early marriage and other HTPs on girls’ future life and led us to develop an action plan. My perspective on gender changed. I started to reflect on my own life and my relationship with my wife. There were things that we used to do believing that it does not affect women. Now I have changed that, and I am helping my wife at home and taking care of the kids.
Opinion and Religious Leaders’ Conference
An opinion leaders’ conference held in 2022 was the first of its kind in the area. Some leaders have an interest in maintaining the existing status quo, but others are more progressive and willing to fight the inequalities and injustice.
Religious leaders agreed that girls should stay in school, that marriage can wait until girls complete their education, and that there is no religious obligation for harmful traditional practices.
We debated these topics and tried to convince the local elders, and finally reached a conclusion … on what to teach and how to approach the people on this sensitive issue. The conference was the first of its kind, no one tried to work with us in the past. I believe that if we work together and engage with the people, we can make a difference.
Systemic change takes time
Although work is just beginning and it will take time to change these widespread beliefs and practices, there are already signs that these efforts are having an impact.
Girls’ voices are being raised and heard and schools and teachers are taking action.
We started providing training for teachers and club members every Friday. After the training, we changed the way we used to do things. We created a way to get information about the situation for girls at home so that we can take action before it is too late. In this way we have saved four girls whose parents had decided to give them in marriage.
I tell people how our life has changed since my wife started doing business. if they are given opportunities, women can do what men can do or even more.
We attend meetings. We discuss issues like harmful traditional practices and early marriage. Following this discussion and hearing the teachings of religious leaders, I decided not to circumcise my nine-year-old daughter. We are becoming a model for our community. Recently we were invited by the local government to attend a meeting and my husband and I participated in that meeting together.