We have to Raise Her Voice

We have to Raise Her Voice

One of our girls came to me today and said that she is afraid that she won’t be able to finish her studies because a much older man in the village has decided to marry her.

“Decided?” I asked.

“He saw me walking down the road and it was decided.”

“Tell him no,” I said.

“I’ve told him a thousand times. He never hears me.”

“Tell your parents that you don’t want to marry him.”

“My parents say that getting married is the most important thing a woman can do in her life. I would be lucky to be married to any man.”

“But you are so bright and we are sponsoring your education. You won’t be a burden to your husband and surely he wants an educated wife, right? Perhaps you can still continue with school even after being married?”

“He is not educated so he doesn’t want me to be either.”

“Bring your parents to me and I will have a talk with them about your education.”

“My parents have no issue with me getting an education while looking for a husband. Now one has come along. If you tell them not to let me get married to this man, you will become the enemy.”

What could I tell her to do? In the end the only solution we came up with that didn’t have severe cultural consequences was for her to physically run away from the compound whenever she saw him coming. Conversations about arranged marriages will be delayed a little bit longer if she isn’t there to partake in them. Hopefully long enough for this man to come to his senses or for her parents to change their mind or for us to come up with a better solution.

Why do education and marriage have to be at odds? Can’t she have both? Shouldn’t she have both? After all, wouldn’t society be better off if all of our wives and mothers were given an opportunity to go to school?

I often find myself wanting to speak for our girls in Kenya. My voice is always louder than the girls around me. I want to share their hopes and their dreams with their husbands, parents and with their communities. I want to scream from the rooftops about their potential to take on the world. I want to empower them to say, with conviction, what they want for their lives. Over and over again, their voices are quieted. They are too scared to stand up for themselves and their opportunities, or lack thereof, are out of their control. In the end I cannot speak for them. Our girls need to be speaking for themselves and they need to be heard. I have to raise her voice so loudly that everyone knows this is important. She is worth it. She deserves it.

If I don’t do something now, how long can she run away from her compound? How long will she stay in school? Now is the time. We have to raise her voice.

~Haley

Haley Williams

Program Director

RTR Kenya

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