The Story behind Dire Dawa City Administration Rural Girls’ House
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants!” Sir Isaac Newton
Amina Mohammed, the Founder of Dire Dawa City Administration Rural Girls’ House, was recognized as one of AWiB’s 2022 WOE for her impactful work on girls’ education by combating early marriage. She started her work in the mid-2000s after concluding the biggest impediment to girls’ education was early marriage. She proposed establishing a hostel for young girls to pursue their education. Ever since then, Amina has been a strong advocate of girl’s education.
Since its establishment 16 years ago, 1653 girls, including those with disabilities, have been sheltered in the hostel to pursue their education. The girls don’t just get sheltered; they are provided with all the necessary guidance, including tutorial services, to help them succeed in their studies. They are taught multifarious life skills and soft skills, including basic human rights and how to practice their rights.
Most of the students had gone to join vocational and technical schools; some even went to further pursue their higher-level studies, including their master’s and post-graduate (doctoral) degrees in international universities. The former students serve as the hostel’s ambassadors and advocates for women’s education. They serve their community as school teachers, university lecturers, police officers, health extension officers, nurses, furniture workers, and so much more. Nearly 100% of job placement goals are met.
Early marriage in Ethiopia
“Early marriage” is any marriage entered into before one reaches the legal age of 18 .
It is one of the global problems that undermine personal development and the rights of women very seriously. It is very delicate among developing countries such as Ethiopia. Underage girls in Ethiopia have been susceptible to child marriage for a long time. Traditional beliefs, religion, and economic motives are recognized as Ethiopia’s root causes of early marriage. It exposes premature children to psychological and emotional traumas, severe violence, denial of social services, reproductive health problems, and migration to nearby poor towns and abroad. Thus, sensitizing the stakeholders, educating girls, and supporting the runaways and others who would otherwise be the victims of early marriage are the way forward to reduce the adverse consequences of child marriage in Ethiopia. 
The Effects of Early Marriage
The impacts of early marriage can be seen in both boys and girls, mainly girls. From a rights perspective, there are three key concerns; the denial of childhood and adolescence, the loss of personal freedom, and the lack of opportunity to develop a full sense of selfhood, as well as the denial of psychological and emotional well-being, reproductive health, and educational opportunity. 
Prevalence of Early Marriage in Ethiopia
By the early 2000s, 59% of Ethiopian girls were marrying before age 18 . Girls who get married and give birth at a very young age are more likely to experience several health problems . In a study made to examine the trend of early marriage among adolescent girls in eastern Ethiopia and analyze data extracted from the Kersa community-based surveillance database for girls aged 10 to 17 for the decade ending in 2018. The overall incidence of early marriage among study participants was 40.48 per 1,000 per year, with an increasing incidence rate from 32.38 per 1,000 per year in 2008 to 40.18 per 1,000 per year in 2018. A relatively high incidence of early marriage was observed among rural girls, those who had no formal education, and unemployed girls. Empowering rural girls through increased access to education is needed to reduce the incidence of early marriage .
Social and religious norms that see girls only as wives and mothers are the largest drivers of child marriage across study sites. These norms value girls’ virginity and stigmatize girls and their families if they are “impure” or “too old.” They prevent girls from being academically successful because they are forced to spend hours a day on domestic work and—in many cases—force them to leave school years before they would choose to do so.
According to a study by UNICEF, child marriage is declining where commitment to and investment in girls’ education is growing—especially where schooling is coupled with active, participatory girls’ clubs.
Impacts of Early Marriage in Ethiopia
Early marriage is a human rights violation as well as a women’s rights violation. It is against efforts to promote socio-economic and cultural developments. In the last few decades, millions of girls were subjected to early marriage, and their fundamental rights to life, freedom of choice, access to education, and other essential basic needs were strictly denied. With such practices, the rights of women and girls are substantially compromised, and around 58 million girls were subject to child marriage . For a long time in Ethiopia, early marriage has been regarded as one of the country’s cultures and traditions. As a consequence, many are dying of birth complications. The terrible consequences of child marriage are that many girls can’t continue their education and become poor, living or working in deplorable conditions.
However, the change is insignificant. Country-wise surveys carried out from 2000 to 2010 in Ethiopia show a decline in the number of girls marrying before the age 15. Meanwhile, millions of girls are still at risk because the practice persists. Research done by USAID in 2012 depicted that child marriage is inversely correlated with education, maternal health, poverty reduction, and other pro-women issues.
According to research  done in the southern part of Ethiopia, religion, ethnicity, and residential area were considered factors to explain the pattern of early marriage in the study. The researcher concluded that early marriage is more prevalent among Muslim, Orthodox, and traditional religious adherents. The probability of getting married in rural areas before age 15 was four times higher than in urban areas. The study discloses that Muslim women between the ages of 15 and 17 were more likely to be victims of early marriage. Moreover, compared to literates, those who were illiterate had a 9-fold higher probability of getting married before age 15. This demonstrates that low levels of education are a significant factor in child marriage in Ethiopia.
Measures to combat early marriage
The current Ethiopian constitution condemns early marriage. According to the constitution, any marriage will be considered legal if and only if it is concluded with both partners’ free and full knowledge and consent. According to the author of this article, one of the most prominent ways to combat this harmful practice is to “educate girls,” along with other measures such as raising awareness, having strong political will and commitment, and providing economic support.
Dire Dawa City Administration Rural Girls’ House (Hostel)
Amina Mohammed grew up in a village where early marriage was practiced readily. In her village, none of the schools taught beyond the fourth grade. If anyone wanted to go further, they would have had to move to the neighboring city, which required a host willing to accommodate them throughout their stay. The low economic status and little connection to the external world made this almost impossible.
If they hadn’t already been married off, the rest of the girls who didn’t have parents like Amina’s were fated to stay at home and help out around the house. This killed the girls’ dreams and buried their potential forever. Amina excelled in her studies, receiving multiple double promotions along the way, all with the goal of one day being able to set vulnerable girls free. After high school, she went on to pursue pedagogical studies and joined the professional world as a school teacher. Amina, who came from a privileged family, was determined to change the situation she found abhorrent.
Amina working for the Education Bureau under Women’s Affairs in Capacity Building, became aware of the acute need for change. She realized that the primary reason was the educational center’s scope; they did not provide education beyond the eighth grade. And it seemed too risky to send girls out into the wilderness so they could get “educated.” Not to mention the extra help that comes in handy around the house and, in some cases, even wealth from the “tilosh/dowry” of a marriage. Amina also affirmed her suspicion of how little value women’s education had for the community.
In 2006, at the 11th Conference on Education held in Hawassa, Amina learned how a similar problem in the south was tackled by constructing a hostel for girls to stay in until they finished their high school studies. She thought it was a brilliant idea and decided to implement it in the Dire Dawa region as well. She took swift action and proposed the idea to the regional government. After approval and cooperation, 2,000 square feet of land was granted for the hotel’s construction. Unfortunately, a disastrous flood in the same year slowed down the construction process, and aid acquisition was extremely difficult. Even though the construction was not complete, the hostel accepted its first-ever batch of 48 students with the mere hope of a better future.
For the first three years, the girls’ expenses were financed by ‘Fre-Addis Ethiopian Women Fund,” founded by the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi. The fund afforded the students a 250-birr monthly stipend for any expenses they had. The hostel provided shelter, and any other expenses had to come from other sources that the founder relentlessly searched and provided. Because the founder was away due to family reasons, the management went down with it. The hostel suffered from a lack of funding that required Amina’s return.
The girls were subject to eating only one type of food, porridge, which was relatively cheaper and accessible from their parents’ houses. Nutrition was another concern that affected students’ performance in their studies. After a visit to the hostel, a former UNICEF country representative pledged support for it in the coming years.
With UNICEF onboard, an improved yearly budget of ETB 334,000 was granted, making it possible to introduce a balanced diet to the students. The impact of nutrition was proven by the vivid increment in the number of students proceeding to the 12th grade. Furthermore, proper sanitary and cleaning appliances were purchased to sustain the year.
The partnership between UNICEF and the hostel came to an end in 2017. After UNICEF, help came from the Dire Dawa City Administration and Education Bureau. The Bureau set aside ETB 500,000 as a permanent annual budget. The first few years went as planned, but as the number of girls coming into the hostel increased each year, it became difficult to balance the needs and expenses. Political instability, turmoil, and inflation rate added gasoline to the fire. In addition, prices skyrocketed, with some items costing up to 300 times what they did two years ago. Inflation was imposed, devaluing the currency; what was once a yearly budget became a quarter’s worth in value. They hit rock bottom when the girls had to go without a single meal for several days in a row.
In 2021 aid again came from Dire Dawa University, offering to donate three months’ worth of food supplies in kind. For the holy month of Ramadan, People to People, a Turkish Aid organization, sponsored the entire month. Some of the remaining resources were passed on to this year’s budget plan.
Currently, the hostel accommodates about 115 students. The dwindling financial support is so precarious that the institution’s sustainability is questionable. With only 20% of the fund remaining, its sustainability in the future remains doubtful. The current purchase is anticipated to feed the girls until the first half of the year, but it is uncertain how they will sustain themselves for the rest of the year. Amina hopes to find funders who will be potential allies in any form.
A plan in the near future includes every former hostel student in the sustaining hostel and paying forward. This is bound to reinforce a sense of ownership amongst the girls with sustainable and expanding capital to be run by.
The hostel compound was built over a decade ago with no renovations in between. Most infrastructures are unreliable, including the water supply. Due to the town’s extreme climate, giant water containers are damaged easily. Amina’s quest to have National Cement build a container made of cement was granted approval, and construction is expected to commence soon. Pests are another concern for the girls and others living in the hostel. Moreover, the site is prone to vector-borne diseases such as malaria. Hence, it needs proper pest control measures periodically, a great expense that isn’t affordable at the moment.
However, the primary concern remains food; what little they have is not a balanced diet. Students suffer from malnutrition, which causes a lack of concentration that hinders their academic performance. The girls eat twice a day on average. Lunch consists of boiled pasta without sauces or rice. Breakfast consists of a single loaf of bread.
Right now, the hostel has no solid organizational structure, and the majority of the roles are performed by Amina herself. She serves as the director, procurement officer, proposal writer & fund finder, supervisor, and fills in any other job that needs attention. To assist her is the former security guard of the hostel, Tiruneh, who completed his MBA and serves the hostel with a minimal paycheck. Tiruneh assists with data acquisition and accommodates the girls with any assistance.
Amina finds the hostel’s neglect by responsible bodies too discouraging to move on to the next step. Despite the fact that it has been nearly four years since applying for a grant to properly investigate and establish a well-organized structure for civil society, no progress has been made.
Amina hopes to make the hostel self-sufficient, able to support its own expenditures from an income generated within the compound, such as the possibility of introducing small-scale agriculture, including growing vegetables and a poultry farm, whose harvests can be consumed by the girls without any degree of worry. She also plans to set up a system for former hostel students to give back to prospective students. With this, she intends to create a greater community of support and community for the girls in order to create an everlasting impact.
- Telephone: +251915750978; +251940379816
- Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dire Dawa, Ethiopia
1. Bayisenge J. Early Marriage as a Barrier to Girl’s Education: A Developmental Challenge in Africa. In: Ikekeonmu C, editor. Girl-child education in Africa Nigeria: Catholic Institute in Development p. 43-66, Enugu: Center for International Justice and Peace (CIDJP) Press, 2010.
2. Mengistu MM (2015) Early Marriage in Ethiopia: So Little Done but So Much to Do. Arts Social Sci J 6: 140. doi: 10.4172/2151-6200.1000140
3. UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Fund, Innocenti Digest, No. 7- March 2001,28
4. Early Marriage: Child Spouses. Florence. Italy: Innocenti Research Center; 2001. Contract No.: No. 7.
5. Tiruneh, F.N., Tenagashaw, M.W., Asres, D.T. et al. Associations of early marriage and early childbearing with anemia among adolescent girls in Ethiopia: a multilevel analysis of nationwide survey. Arch Public Health 79, 91 (2021)
6. Dureti Abdurahman, Nega Assefa & Yemane Berhane(2022) Early Marriage Among Young Girls in Eastern Ethiopia: Trends From 2008 to 2018, Women’s Reproductive Health
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