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Shining a Light on Married Girls

We believe every girl deserves a childhood. If her childhood is stolen from her, she needs access to accurate information and high quality sexual and reproductive health care, so she can take back control of her life.

“When I got married,” Nadjoari says, “my mom wouldn’t explain pregnancy to me because she considered it a conversation for adults.” Nadjoari lives with her husband, her co-wife, and their small children.

BurkinaFaso-youth-Nadjoari

And so we went where the need is greatest—to West Africa, a region with some of the lowest rates of contraceptive use and highest rates of maternal death on the continent.

In 2012, we launched an innovative partnership with local governments and communities in Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger to address the urgent health needs of married girls and young women—an extremely underserved group.

“Forced to abandon their education, their homes, and their friends, these married young women become isolated and virtually powerless in their relationships with their husbands, who are often much older,” says Dr. Abdoul Baldé, Pathfinder’s Program Manager for the West Africa Regional Office.

They are at particular risk of bearing children before they are ready—one of the leading causes of death of 15 to 19 year old girls in Africa.

“They are falling through the cracks,” says Dr. Baldé, who explains, “There is good work being done in this country to support children and prevent early marriage. But what about girls who are already married, who are seen as neither children nor adults? Is it too late for them?”

Dr. Baldé is resolute. “Pathfinder says absolutely not.”

Partnering with West African governments and local organizations, we bring together entire communities—women and men, girls and boys, parents, religious leaders, mothers-in-law, health care providers, and others—to remove barriers to young women’s health and well-being.

BUILDING STRONG BONDS

Today, in a small village of Burkina Faso, Lompo, Ouali, and Nadjoari gather to share their stories. Twice a month, they join a support group led by a Pathfinder-trained peer educator. In their safe space, they learn how to address domestic violence and the importance of healthy communication with their partners. Side by side, they discover the power of contraception.

“I joined this group because I want to be healthy,” says Ouali, who got her husband’s blessing to use an injectable contraceptive. “I found out that you don’t have to become pregnant if you don’t want to.”

BurkinaFaso-youth-Ouali

Nadjoari’s baby girl squirms in her arms as she says, “The group taught me that if you just gave birth, if you have a new baby, you don’t have to get pregnant again right away.”

Two years—that’s how long Nadjoari wants to wait before getting pregnant again. “Family planning is helping my health, my child’s health, my whole family,” she smiles. “Even my husband is happy.”

The late afternoon sun blazes down. Soon the three young women must return home to start preparing the evening meal. But before they turn to leave, Lompo, the youngest, raises her head to speak.

“Do you want to know why I joined this group?” she asks shyly. “I wanted to find out what family planning is.” Lompo speaks a little louder when she says these final words:

“When it comes to my body and my health, I think I should be the one to make the decision.”

Every girl deserves the same choice.

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