From the moment she could carry a bucket, Semira would gather the water, cook the food, and collect the firewood for their family. Her three brothers would play with their friends, or relax under a tree. None of them thought anything of it – it was just how things had always been in their community in rural Ethiopia.
Doing all the chores made it hard to keep up at school, but since Semira knew that her parents would be looking for a husband for her as soon as possible — most likely before she finished school — she supposed it didn’t matter. It was one of the things that was often expected of girls in her community. There were other things too — like girls being forced to marry a man who had abducted them instead of fighting the crime, or having their genitals “cut” by a traditional practitioner to protect their family’s honour.
“I thought all harmful traditional practices were useful,” says Semira, “and I used to respect and protect them like any other community member.”
Until she was 13. Then everything changed.
Because of child sponsors, World Vision invited Semira and the other boys and girls in her community to a workshop to learn about gender-based violence and what it looked like in their community. Community educators were also invited. Semira was shocked as she heard how the traditional practices she had always thought were normal – like child marriage, marriage by abduction, or female genital mutilation – did real and devastating physical, psychological, and social damage to girls. She discovered how they were stealing girls’ childhoods and shattering their futures. She also learned that she could do something about it.
“I learned that the traditional practices were harming girls,” she says. “I [decided to] give my time to fight the practices and make the community aware of the health, physical, and psychological consequences for the future of girls.”
Semira formed a girls’ club with some friends and got to work.