The development Research and Projects Centre (dRPC) set out to investigate a much-touted assumption in the child, early, and forced marriage community: that acquiring vocational skills offers girls a pathway to empowerment, agency, and poverty alleviation. The dRPC also set out to test the assumption that empowerment and agency contribute to building girls’ resilience and resistance to child, early, and forced marriage. The center sought to explore these assumptions in the context of two ongoing projects it was conducting: Conjugal Slavery in War (CSiW) and Partnership for Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE).
The research carried out followed a retrospective research design using implementation research methodology and employing both quantitative and qualitative data collection tools. The research was rolled out through two customized skills acquisition programs integrated in existing dRPC interventions. The six-month skills acquisition pilots were implemented in Northern Nigeria, a region of the country with the highest rates of early marriage, where the most recent data shows that 36 percent of girls are married before the age of 15.
Fifty girls participated in the vocational skills acquisition training in a government secondary school in the Northwest state of Kano, which was part of the PSIPSE project. Another fifty girls, displaced by the insurgency in the Northeast, participated in training and counseling provided by a nonprofit organization, Science Village Gombe, in Gombe State.
As this working paper notes, the study found that while girls in both study sites acquired new skills, derived support and relief, and learned to cope with their anxiety, exposure to the interventions failed to change the girls’ acceptance of marriage as their destiny. Moreover, the fact that trauma associated with forced marriage in the Northeast was intertwined with wider trauma related to abject poverty, insurgency, and displacement, suggests that acquiring skills alone does not build resilience to the trauma of abduction and forced marriage. In the Northwest, the contexts of insecurity, a failing secondary school system, and a contracting informal economy make economic empowerment unattainable for girls.
Without strong guidance and counseling units within the school system, and without access to capital, markets, and mentorship, it is doubtful that skills alone can empower girls or form the basis of an alternative to early marriage. This study recommends a holistic girls’ empowerment program design in which vocational skills are an important but not singular component. Such a program design will build on life skills and counseling to address psychological trauma. Also important will be extended timelines for interventions, integration within government small- and medium-scale poverty alleviation programs, and post-intervention follow-up mentoring support. A robust monitoring and evaluation framework must support learning and redesign of such interventions.
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Note: All girls who participated in the skills training program and research activities gave their informed consent. For those under the age of 18, additional consent was obtained from school authorities, guardians, and/or host families. Participation was voluntary, girls could leave at will, and all identifying information was kept confidential. Photos included in this report have been granted permission by the girls for public distribution.