In Ethiopia, early marriage has been identified by the UN as the single most important reason why girls’ education is undermined. Though the Ethiopian government has outlawed marriage before the age of 18, the practice continues due to traditional norms, poverty and fear of violence. Girls are often pulled out of school just at the cusp of puberty, throwing them into isolation and into situations they are unequipped to handle physically and emotionally – such as early marriage, forced sex and pregnancy. They are robbed of the support network and safe spaces needed to avoid or deal with experiences that could harm and derail them as they grow into adults.
The GGRF Sodo Athletic Scholarship Programme uses the creation of a girls’ running team to represent a ‘safe space’, where girls not only can focus on health and fitness, but also get peer support that reduces their sense of isolation, and builds their self-esteem and ability to assert their right to choose when to marry. The life skills programme complements this by providing crucial information to the girls on basic issues that affect their lives. The scholarships also eliminate financial problems the girls and their families may have to keep them enrolled in school.
The girls meet three times a week, after school and on Saturday mornings. On Saturdays, after an hour long practice, they eat a meal together as a team and go through the life skills programme, learning about and discussing issues such as family planning, financial literacy, HIV/AIDS awareness, nutrition, healthy relationships, leadership, and creative expression. Girls who complete the one-year life skills programme will continue to receive scholarships for 2 more years, and if interested, can also take part in mentoring and leadership opportunities to further develop their skills. Furthermore, GGRF conducts meetings and consultations with the families of the girls and community leaders to advocate for girls’ education and gender equality.