By Hope Nda
Women and girls in the Southwest town of Idenau have lauded the Rural Women Development Centre, RUWDEC, after participating in two successive mentorship and self-empowerment workshops organised by the women-centred non-governmental organisation.
“I am very grateful to RUWDEC for this new initiative they have brought to us,” said Lizet Isumbe, a seamstress by profession and mother of at least one.
“I really enjoyed the mushroom training and I wanted to start cultivating it (mushroom) for business and, though I do not have money to buy the seeds, I am hopeful I will have money to do the mushroom business,” she added.
The two workshops, held on February 19 and March 13 respectively, trained women and girls on sexual reproductive rights, early marriages, and also included an economic empowerment session on mushroom cultivation.
During this March 13 workshop, women and girls were drilled on sexual reproductive health rights, forced marriage and how to prevent it.
“This session was basically on helping the girls to understand their sexual rights and then some lessons on child marriage – causes, consequences and solutions,” said RUWDEC’s Head of Environmental and Production Unit, Claris Buhven Suinyuy.
During the workshop, poverty was identified as a root cause of forced and early marriages, where parents send their teenage children to early marriages as a means of “covering their poverty.”
“Today people get into sexual activities at very early ages, and bringing this kind of education to a community like this is very important. There are so many unwanted pregnancies, and they are not really aware of the risk involved in this kind of life,” Claris Buhven said.
After the workshop, Lizet Isumbe noted that “… some of us girls go into early marriages because of lack of means to education, or lack of self-empowerment, and, at times, there is no one standing behind us to take responsibility over certain issues”.
Worsening Early/Forced Marriage Situation
Early and forced marriages are much connected and highly prevalent in Cameroon, according to the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA. RUWDEC’s Education and Capacity Building Facilitator, Mary Enow Epe, noted that “… the issue of sexual health or a girl’s sexual right is a cause for concern…”
According to RUWDEC, this is a major concern which the organisation is seeking to tackle in a community like Idenau where the phenomenon is rampant.
A 2014 survey on early marriage in Cameroon revealed that 20 percent of girls between 15 and 19 years were already married. The situation might just be worse in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions where the crisis has forced more young girls out of school for four years now.
Government’s fight against forced marriage gained steam in 2016 when the Penal Code was amended and a new law included to punish forced marriage.
The new penal code, under Section 356, makes forced marriage punishable with a five to 10 years prison term, with a fine from FCFA 25,000 to 1,000,000.
D’Girls Club: A Forum For Female Plight
During the workshops with women and girls in Idenau, RUWDEC created a forum dubbed D’Girls Club aimed at rallying females for economic empowerment and personal development.
“D’Girls club is a forum created by RUWDEC through a project called D’Girls initiative, sex education, economic empowerment to end forced marriages,” said Claris Buhven, who trained members of the club on sex education.
“This was the second time RUWDEC is meeting with the club – we had met with them the first time to impart them with skills to cultivate mushroom,” she said, adding that belonging to this group widen their opportunities more than an adolescent girl out there.”
Although RUWDEC’s D’Girls Project rounded off on Saturday, March 13, Mary Enow Epe says RUWDEC plans “to continue keeping in touch with the girls and, from the recommendations they have given, we can see how to implement another project which might still be in line with child marriage and sexual reproductive health rights.”
Mercy Enjeh, one of the teenagers who are actively involved in the club, says it is the right place for a young woman to belong.