Every day, Samanah, 20, tries to honour the promise she made to herself many years ago to protect the children and women of her village. “I’ll never forget the tears of my eighth grade classmate when she was married. She was only 13 years old, and…she left school [soon after]” she says. Since that time she has worked to strengthen her skills in advocating for her peers, and has “become an active member of the village in helping children.”
Samanah lives in the Enjel district of Herat where she studies Law in the University while also working as a seamstress to help her family. Her journey here was difficult, filled with anxiety and doubt. “I did not understand [at the time] how best to start helping my people to end early marriage.”
World Vision Afghanistan reaches out to empower women like Samanah through awareness-raising sessions and community dialogue on Child Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM). The current project, with the financial support of Aktion Deutschland Hilft "German Relief Coalition", promotes economic and social opportunities for households headed by women who are either parents and/or caregivers. The intervention aims to reduce incidents of CEFM while also supporting family livelihoods.
Samanah was one of the young women approached by facilitators. The head of the village and World Vision staff “came to our house and asked me if I would join this community dialogue, and I was surprised and more than happy to participate in the programme,” she explains. Through joining the dialogue Samanah “learned about the negative consequences of early marriage among families. The root-causes of the problem are poverty and a lack of understanding of the negative impacts of these relationships in the near future.” She says that villagers need to address early and forced marriage, with the minimum goal being to mitigate if not outright eliminate the most harmful consequences.
It wasn’t long before Samanah had a chance to showcase her advocacy skills during a family discussion about marrying off her 14-year-old cousin. “I argued against this decision by explaining the negative impacts of early marriage on both my cousin and the families [involved].” The result was Samanah’s first successful case – the family agreed with her arguments and her cousin has been allowed to continue her studies and avoided her personal development and safety being put at risk.
Everything Samanah has learned from community dialogue she shares with her clients. “A number of women from the village come to our house every day to place orders for dresses. I take this opportunity to discuss and share child protection and early marriage issues.”
In an unexpected blow, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her earnings. “Due to coronavirus, people rarely come to order dresses now because [of financial hardship],” she explains. Unfortunately the virus has also led to an increase in early marriage in the village as people struggle to earn money through whatever means necessary. One of Samanah’s neighbours in particular was struggling. “The head of the house was the only breadwinner and worked daily,” she explains. “[After COVID] he became jobless. The family felt forced to arrange the engagement of their 12-year-old daughter solely for the amount [they would receive as] bride price.”
In spite of everything Samanah remains undiscouraged. She takes every opportunity she can to help her community, to advocate and engage and make good on her noble ambitions. In order to raise awareness about issues related to COVID-19 she created some instructional paintings to display in the local mosque. She also sews masks for customers, free-of-charge. “I gave masks to the children who attend mosque for learning,” she says proudly. World Vision Afghanistan, through these difficult times and others, will continue to provide support, education and encouragement to young women like Samanah, in order for them to achieve the better world they dream of for their communities.