International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
Date: Friday, December 6, 2019
Mossa Abu Taema, one of the 20 first ambassadors of change who persuaded his community members to stop early marriages. Photo: UN Women/Eunjin Jeong
When two men arrived at Freeh Abu T’ema’s family home in Abasan Alkabeerah, a village located in the south of the Gaza Strip, he didn’t know that his life, as well as his daughter’s, would change forever.
“My 16-year-old daughter’s wedding was approaching,” Abu T’ema recalled. The soon-to-be bride was his third daughter, out of five, all between the ages of eight and 24. She was preparing to drop out of school because her then-future husband did not want her to pursue her education.
“I knew she was too young to get married and didn’t finish school yet, but I couldn’t decline a marriage proposal from one of my cousin’s sons, so I said yes,” said Abu T’ema.
The two advocates presented Abu T’ema with facts about the impacts of early marriage, including potential negative consequences on his daughter’s physical and mental health, as well as the statistically proven higher rate of divorce for early marriages compared to the marriages of couples over 18 years. Abu T’ema listened closely, and, by the end of the conversation, he was convinced. He called off the wedding and his daughter returned to school the next day.
For Mossa Abu Taema, a doctor by profession, child marriage cannot be consensual. “As a medical doctor, I couldn’t bear the negative effects that early marriage brings to a young girl’s health,” he said. “And also, the ethical aspect of it—how can you ask a 13-year-old girl to get married?”
Wael Abu Ismael had spent most of his adult life in Libya, where women usually got married in their mid-20s after finishing university. When he returned to his hometown of Khan Younis, he was shocked to see under-age girls being forced to marry early.
“Many fathers in Khan Younis do not have jobs, so they tend to marry their daughters at an early age to reduce the number of mouths to feed,” explained Abu Ismael. “However, rather than reducing the burden, early marriages typically double it. If there are issues in the marriage, the girl’s parents are often asked to take responsibility.”
Although the men who were selected to become ambassadors of change already had progressive values, “the six-day intensive training on public speaking, [negotiation] skills, and different methods to influence others, helped them transform their beliefs and spark actions to stop early marriage.. [The community members] started to pay attention and their behaviour also began to change,” said Mr. Haitham Abu Teir, the CBO’s coordinator.
Wael Abu Ismael, Freeh Abu T’ema and Mossa Abu Taema, ambassadors of change to end early marriages in Khan Younis. Photo: UN Women/Eunjin Jeong
Abdel Naser Abu Te’ema, the “Muktar” and Wael Abu Ismael talking about the Muktar’s decision to not approve marriage under 18 for both boys and girls. Photo: UN Women/Eunjin Jeong
Previously, Abu Te’ema approved early marriages if it was desired by the family because he considered marriage to be a private family matter. However, after two home visits facilitated by the ambassadors of change, Abu Te’ema understood the negative health effects of early marriage and how the high rate of divorce strains the community.
“The home visits were powerful,” shared Abu Te’ema. “They made me to realize that this tradition should not continue for the future of our community. Since that day, I have not approved of any marriage under 18 years.”
Abu Te’ema has further convinced 10 other “Muktars” in eastern Khan Younis—covering a total population of 30,000—to reject any marriage contracts until both parties are at least 18 years old.
A stamp by Muktar Abu Te’ema, required for the marriage contract of all couples from his community to get official marriage certificate from the court. The couples get the stamp from the Muktar if he approves the marriage.
Photo: UN Women/Eunjin Jeong
While there have been substantial gains, the battle is far from over. “We still face many challenges, and some accuse us of bringing “western ideas” to the community,” says Abu Taema. “Once a father of a 16-year-old girl who’s already three times divorced and with two children, slammed the door on us, refusing to listen.”
“However, with the success we’ve had so far and with the new ambassadors who have joined us to make our community a better place for all, we won’t stop until there’s zero early marriage cases in eastern Khan Younis and the entire Gaza Strip. We believe this is possible.”
Document Sources: UN Women
Subject: Social issues, Women
Publication Date: 06/12/2019
URL source: https://palestine.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2019/4/the-men-who-are-standing-tall-against-early-marriages-in-the-gaza-strip