How I Firmly Said NO to an Early and Forced Marriage
In the words of Martha Ntoipo, a 33-year-old Maasai activist from Tanzania. She works for the Pastoralist Information and Development Organization (PIDO), a community development organization which she founded in 2010, which works in the fields of health, women economic empowerment, gender equality and human rights, environmental conservation and research.
I am one among nearly 50 children of my father, who has six wives. For none of them was he their choice. Men come to my father with rings that act as a booking for a wife, just like they go to any Maasai elder who has or expects daughters.
I was no different. The booking had been done even before my birth. I got to go to primary school by accident, because I was enrolled in my father’s absence. That became the gateway for me to go to a secondary school that opened the year I was finishing primary school by the Lutheran Church in Tanzania, in partnership with the NGO Operation Bootstrap Africa in Minnesota and the Lutheran Church in the United States of America.
My father was not happy. Going to secondary school meant delaying marriage, and the cows he would get as a bride price. He started talking about marriage whenever I went home for a holiday. I told him I was still in school and that I did not want to get married. He brought six different men to meet me.
I saw my sisters married off at a very tender age – as young as 10 years old! But with time, in school I learned that I had the right to choose my husband and get married whenever I am ready. I stood up to my father and said NO! I will not be married to a man you choose but the one I choose for myself.
My fight had consequences for me socially, as I was perceived as an outcast, but even more for my mother, who was accused of being the mastermind behind my marriage refusal when in fact she had nothing to do with it.
The things I went through and the pain and suffering I saw my late mother go through are what give me the strength and courage to do what I do today.
I have been working for women’s rights since I graduated from high school in 2003, I have been addressing issues like female genital mutilation, forced early marriages, sexual and reproductive health education, children’s rights, HIV/AIDS as well as women’s rights to property ownership and decision-making.
I provide training and educate girls in secondary schools on sexual and reproductive health as well as the effects of FGM. I also raise awareness among men on the rights of women and children, in the hopes of achieving communities that treat women and children justly and with the respect they deserve as human beings.
I want women from my community and other communities in Tanzania to know their rights. Every injustice that happens to women in my community has a cultural argument to support and to justify it. I believe God has given me the opportunity to see that there is an alternative, there is a chance to change and leave behind oppressive traditions and hold onto the ones that everyone in the community can celebrate.
My greatest hope is that one day men and women of my Maasai community will join hands together, respecting each other and raising generations of boys and girls that treat one another with love, integrity and dignity.
I want to see a peaceful world, with no struggle for equality because it has been achieved, a world where boys and girls from different backgrounds love and respect each other, a world where everyone’s opinion counts.
Martha Ntoipo is attending CSW58 on an Yvonne Hebert scholarship. The views expressed by CSW participants in these blogs are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of UN Women.