RED RIBBON: MARIAMA
In this photo, Mariama proudly displays the red ribbon that I gave to her, upon my arrival back in Tangarwashane after almost a year away. Like her other girlfriends, she came running up to me chanting “Alzhara, Alzhara”, and cheered with glee when I pulled out a red ribbon for her and the other girls. They all immediately attached the ribbons in their braided hair, creating a harmonious unison of flowing red throughout the village.
Mariama’s youthful play and nonchalance were cut short at 13. Like the other girls in her community, she married her cousin right upon reaching puberty. This is customary among the Touaregs in remote Niger. Girls still marry at a very young age to the boy that they were destined to at birth. The boy is always a cousin, chosen to retain family cohesion and peace.
While Amman Imman has worked with parents to encourage them to marry their girls at a later age, we’ve had trouble succeeding altering this long lasting tradition. Sadly, this means that girls rarely attend school past the age of thirteen, as they soon take on the responsibilities of child rearing and upholding a household.
Without an education, and few skills other than herding, their opportunities for making revenue and helping to support their families are limited. Amman Imman works to teach vocational skills such as sewing, literacy, and craft making, in order to help the women contribute to the family income. A woman’s financial autonomy is of primary importance because husbands are often away months at a time as migrant workers, and do not make enough money to healthily support their families.