When Manuela Coletti from Youth Economic Justice (YEJ) opened the organisation’s first enterprise development projects in Madhya Pradesh in 2016, she knew that early marriage was a serious issue for the community. She hadn’t expected that it would have such an immediate impact on the organisation’s activities.
YEJ began their work by opened a tailoring school and a bakery to train local adolescent girls in skills they could use to earn their own
income. The Adivasi girls were all keen to be involved and 45 signed up immediately to join one of the projects. However, within a few weeks attrition rates were so high that many of the girls weren’t able to learn the new skills on offer.
By speaking with the community and the parents of girls, YEJ learnt that a few of the girls had been married and would no longer attend, despite 18 being the legal age of marriage in India. Other girls were being kept at home, reportedly to complete household chores.
YEJ and their partner organisation Good Shepherd Sisters held community meetings to support understanding of the community’s concerns.
Parents were able to express their worries about the safety of the
girls. Strategies were put in place so that girls travelling to
activities could move in groups and have access to mobile phones in case they needed help. The community also got involved in building a bakery stall as a safe space that families could be happy for their girls to work in.
YEJ was also able to explain the value that the girls’ new skills would have in later life. The girls themselves were keen to reinforce this message.
One of the young proposed the signing of a social contract in which she, and their family would agree to delay her marriage until she had completed their training. Many of the girls followed suit and signed agreement of their own.
To date, the agreements have paid off. 123 girls have completed their training in the last three years. Of those, 60 per cent are still unmarried and working hard to earn money that is supporting their families to access education and healthcare.
Across the village, the average age of marriage has increased from 15-16 years at the start of the project to 18-21 years three years later.
“This is something that we’ve always believed in,” says Coletti, “that building a girl’s economic independence will empower her to make decisions about her own life.”
“It’s so encouraging to see that after only three years, this
decision-making power is being used to invest in local communities and ensure the ongoing well-being of families.”
Youth Economic Justice (YEJ) is a Scottish non-governmental organisation that works to support the economic empowerment of women and young people in Africa and Asia. YEJ thanks the Souter Foundation, the Corra Foundation and the Scottish Government for their ongoing support.