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Missed opportunities

Niger, December 10, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Haoua Sidibe Boukari/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Hado in her neighborhood in Niamey. Photo: Haoua Sidibe Boukari/Mercy Corps

In Niger, although women represent more than half of the population, they are victims of all kinds of discrimination. Despite their best efforts they mostly remain poor. The rural woman's workload is 16 to 18 hours each day — in agriculture, livestock, trade and handicrafts, not to mention work around the household and raising multiple children. Despite this, their work is not taken into consideration in official economic and labor statistics. Therefore, women's activities are not appreciated here!

“No development without education for all" and "No sustainable development without girls’ education" are local slogans that speak to the importance of women in Niger's economy and society. Yet, in the analysis of the figures, one realizes that 80 percent of girls from 7 to 12 years are not educated. Instead, they are inhibited by household tasks and most of them are forced to be married before maturity.

Mercy Corps has been working in Niamey since early September 2010 to increase the purchasing power of vulnerable households, enabling them to use local markets to meet immediate food security needs. Through a cash-for-work program, 2,400 beneficiaries from deeply impoverished households in the Gamkalé, Pays Bas, Koira Tagui, and Kombo urban neighborhoods in Niamey will be able to meet their basic family food needs while improving environmental health, stimulating the local economy and enhancing food security.

Moctar Koné, the cash-for-work supervisor, led us through one of the neighborhoods called Kombo, an area located near the Niger River — the most beautiful part of Niamey. More than 125 people benefit from the project, working up to 60 days and earning about $4 a day. Sixty days of wage will inject about $80 a month into a household, or $240 at the end of completing their full 60 days of labor.

Hado, a 52-year-old widow, is one of the beneficiaries of the project. Her face hides the story that changed the course of her life.

Thirty years ago, she dreamed of becoming a teacher. But at the tender age of 12, Hado was forced into marriage to a resident of the neighboring village. Before her fifteenth birthday, Hado was carrying a child on her back while undertaking her 16-hour workday filled with daily chores Her subsequent nine other children suffered in the same way. Among Hado’s 10 children, nine are still alive today, yet only one has a job.

Hado, like the majority of women of her age, has not tasted the advantage of education because some parents perceive girls' education as a waste of time — instead of going to school, girls use their time to sell kola nuts or peanuts before marriage, which is regarded as essential for any girl.

She tells me with a shocking air that "girls are often married at the age of 13 or 14, and some as early as 9 or 12. The decision does not come from their mothers, but rather from their fathers." This problem is widespread in all regions of the Niger.

As if things weren't already hard enough, in 2009 Hado’s husband — the primary wage earner for the family — passed away. Nevertheless, with Mercy Corps’ support, Hado found hope.

Working in the Mercy Corps project and earning $4 a day, Hado is able to make enough money to buy food and cover the costs of her children’s education. "My dear, from now on, all my children and grandchildren will go to school,” she tells me.

Hado herself has missed many educational and other opportunities in her life, through no fault of her own. But, today, she is making sure that all her children and grandchildren — girls and boys alike — will have those changes, and more.