Victorine, is from a small, farming village in northwest Cameroon. Few girls there go to school, and those who do are usually pulled out before they graduate and are married off before they turn 18. But Victorine has different plans for her future. She wants to be a lawyer.
Victorine is part of a club run by Women for a Change Cameroon, an organization that empowers girls and young women. The club was started three years ago so that girls—and some boys—could get information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Victorine has been a part of the club from the beginning and is now one of its leaders. IWHC staff recently visited the club and saw firsthand the impact these initiatives are having on the lives of girls and young women. They advised the club’s leaders and facilitators on their comprehensive sexuality education lessons.
For many of the girls, participating in the Women for a Change club and workshop is the first time they hear about human rights, especially their right to control what happens with their own body and their sexuality and reproduction. “Women for a Change has built me up and taught me almost everything I know today about my right as a girl,” said Victorine.
They learn not only about biology and the basics of sex education, but also about harmful gender norms that may threaten their health and safety. During a discussion of the attitudes of men and boys in her community, Victorine asserted, “We have to change their mentality.” Not only is child marriage common in this region, but other forms of violence against women and girls are as well. When one participant commented that a girl should be careful about what she wears, to avoid harassment and abuse by men, Victorine objected. “It is not what women wear that causes rape. Even women who are covered are attacked.”
Importantly, Victorine and other girls are learning to speak up and out. They are learning to question the status quo. One participant declared, “Women and girls should not be confined to the bedroom or the kitchen!” Some have dreams, like Victorine, to continue school and go to university. They are gaining confidence by participating in club, and the boys now respect their rights more.
The effects are felt beyond the club. Victorine goes out into surrounding communities to sensitize them to the rights of girls. Sometimes she is speaking to crowds made up of mostly men and boys, but she is not afraid. No doubt, she is winning over some of them. But her main audience is the other girls and young women.
She has a message for them: “I want them to know they have a voice.”
First published by the International Women’s Health Coalition