From a Child Bride to a Community Activist: Story of a Resilient Young woman
In a small town called Ahun Tegegn, 578 kilometers north of Addis Abeba, there lived a girl called Simegn Tadesse who was extraordinarily bright that when she was only 8 years old, she was already a six grader. Simegn always came first in her class and often skipped grades. While she remained an overachiever, little did she know that her parents were planning to marry her off to a man who is much older than she was and that her dream of becoming a teacher was on the cusp of being shattered.
One unfortunate day, as she was coming back from school with her friend, she learnt the preparation for a festivity at home was not just for the usual feast to one of the saints. “I didn’t know until a friend told me they were going to marry me off. I resisted to no avail,” says Simegn reminiscing in sadness. Despite much resistance from the child bride to be, the wedding happened.
“I stayed for two months and ran away to my parents’. But they took me back. I stayed for a couple of days and once again, I ran away only to repeat the same pattern. Finally, they got tired of it and let me carry on with my studies,” says Simegn.
Simegn Tadesse has Transformed from a Child Bride to a Community Activist
Albeit the absence of counselling services to deal with the traumatic experience, she persisted and kept on gaining great scores at her studies. In a globe where every 15 seconds one underage girl gets married, it might not come as a shocking surprise when six years later tragedy struck Simegn again. “When I turned 14, my parents forced me to marry for the second time. They told me how they would gain economic and social benefits. I had no choice other than getting into to a second marriage.” This time, she was not as lucky as she had been in her first marriage in which she could have been sexually violated if it was not for the mother of the man she had married. It didn’t take a long time for her to get pregnant which nine months later was followed by a hard labor. She had to go to Woldia, a town 88 kilometers away from home, and admitted to the hospital there. “My baby did not survive,” she says in distress. “But my parents were happy that at least I was still alive. Shortly after this incident, they started to regret the whole arrangement and I got divorced.”
Simegn then took a couple of years to cope with the divorce and all the traumatic experience she had underwent and eventually got married – this time willingly. She also got pregnant. Simegn also started participating in the youth reproductive health club that was established by Save the Children three years ago. The club was established with the objective of improving sexual and reproductive health of youth. “I act in the short plays we do. I also take advantage of the unfortunate events in my life to teach about traditional harmful practices in and outside of the town. We are now proud to witness people making great strides on issues of sexual and reproductive health,” Simegn says rubbing her belly. She seems hopeful that her child would be born to live in a better situation than hers. Yet, research has it that by 2030, more than 150 million girls globally will be married before their 18th birthday.
Since February 2015, Save the Children in Ethiopia has been implementing Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Family Planning Services for Marginalized Women and Girls (Yaflanet Hiwot II). The EU-supported Sexual and Reproductive Health program runs in Amhara and Afar Regional States. The project directly targets 1.2 million marginalized and vulnerable women and adolescents aged 15-49 years with a special focus on 144,000 adolescent girls aged 15-19. Yaflanet Hiwot II employs different approaches including stepping stone, community conversation; and in and out of school clubs to reach the target groups.