IT is a tragedy for parents to deny girls an education and instead marry them off. This absurd reality has forced more girls to go against the odds to remain in school.
Winnie Kansiime is one such girl. She was only 15 when her parents tried to force her into marriage. But she bravely refused and chose to study. She said that she had to stand up against this tradition.
“My parents decided that I get married when I was only 15 years old. We grew up in Tanzania where the culture dictated that girls got married as early as 14. In 2005 I was 14, and my parents decided that I would go to school for one more year to allow my body to develop,” Kansiime said.
She took the bold and drastic decision to run away from her home.
Kansiime said: “I took to my heels in search of safety, and dad sent boys to chase after me, but I was lucky and I escaped.
“I found a lady who nursed my bruised body and later took me to hospital in Nyagatare. She suggested that I report the matter to the district authorities, which I did.
“I felt that my future lay in education and so I decided to go to school without knowing what would happen next.”
She went to Kiziguro Secondary School for her S.1. Here she managed to convince the head teacher that she would soon pay her school tuition. The head teacher was compassionate enough to let her study.
In 2006, Kansiime said a man called Emmanuel who worked for FAWE Rwanda, made it possible for her to get support.
“He came looking for me at school after hearing rumours about me and promised to help. I am now in S.5 and happy that I am in school studying Physics, Chemistry and Biology (PCB). I am doing great and they are happy about that.”
Kansiime said that she grew up in a cultural background where girls were considered ready for marriage as soon as they could read.
She said: “girls in such situations should believe in themselves and not lose confidence. Had I been driven by fear, I would be blaming myself now, not my parents.”
“Girls are not alone in their struggle to achieve the best in life, and well wishers like FAWE understand our problems and support us.”
She admits that FAWE helped change her parent’s mentality.
“I am glad to say that my sisters go to school – something my parents never wanted to hear about.”
“Parents should educate their children as a first priority, and then marriage can come later. Parents need to listen to our opinions and respect them, regardless of our culture.”
Kansiime’s outlook to life has changed, “I know I will achieve the best out of my education and the best I can promise is to give what I received.
Education is an essential element in the empowerment of girls. A good quality education designed on the basis of girl’s immediate needs develops their capacity to seize future opportunities.
The author is a teacher at Kagarama secondary school