Idrisu Ali grimaces as he recalls the day he sent his 12-year-old daughter, Fatima, away to live with a 65-year-old man.
Although the practice is common in Nigeria’s remote northern state of Bauchi, Ali did not feel entirely comfortable with the idea of giving away his little girl’s hand in marriage – to a man old enough to be her grandfather.
“I was sad because he was too old. I wanted her to marry someone younger, say 55 or 50 because he could take care of her for a longer time before he dies. But he was a successful farmer in the village and he paid a good dowry,” says Ali in his rundown shack in Bauchi, the state capital.
The dowry consisted of some kola nuts (native to the African tropics), a cow, a bag of salt and a sewing machine. To protect his daughter from the negative glares of society, Ali accepted the generous offer and sent Fatima on her way to her new life as a wife.
“This is what happens when a girl reaches puberty. It is our culture and that is the right thing for a woman to do. She will grow up quickly and learn how to take care of a man and the home and bring honor to her family,” says Ali.
For Fatima and many other young girls in Northern Nigeria, their demise into forced marriages is puzzling.
Fatima’s marriage is prohibited under Nigeria’s Child Rights Act (CRA), which bans marriage before the age of 18. But federal laws are at loggerheads with age-old customs, as well as the implementation of Sharia law or Islamic law in some Muslim states.
“As a father you have to do what is best for your family. If your daughter is ready for marriage, you do what you must to make sure she finds a good man,” says Ali.
Nigeria is home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, with 23 million girls and women who are married in childhood according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). GirlsnotBrides.org asserts that globally, the number of teen brides is expected to reach 1.2 billion by 2050 if there is no reduction with one in three girls in the developing world married before age 18.
The practice has continued to gain prominence in northern Nigeria due to prevailing attitudes in an area with gender disparity. The grim situation is particularly pronounced in this region due mainly to strong resistance to CRA with opponents stating that some aspects of the Act are against religion and therefore cannot be followed.
“According to current figures, more than 50,000 girls worldwide are married while still children, often before they may be physically and emotionally ready to become wives and mothers and this endangers the life trajectories of these girls in numerous ways,” says Oby Ezekwesili, Senior Economic Advisor and Co-Founder of #Bringbackourgirls campaign.
Such was the case for Mamuna Ibrahim. At the age of 14, she is already a divorcee.
“When I was 13, one of my father’s friends came to the house and asked for a bride. My father chose me because I was the oldest out of my three siblings. I did not want to go with him. I wanted to go to school and be an air hostess but I could not disobey my father so I accepted,” says Ibrahim.
Her husband, a 38-year-old trader, took her away to the remote dust-blown state of Borno in north eastern Nigeria. Immediately after the marriage, Ibrahim’s problems began.
“I wanted to continue my education but he said no. One day he came home and I was reading a storybook and he got really angry and beat me. He said a wife’s place is in the house not at school. He was abusive and demanded sex every evening. It was painful,” says Ibrahim.
To escape the traumatic ordeal, she ran home to her mother and begged not to be returned. Her angry husband divorced her immediately under Sharia Law, which requires a man to say out loud “I divorce you” three times for a marriage to be over.
“My father was very angry and embarrassed. He threatened to kill me but my mother and other elders of the family pleaded with him. He stopped talking to me because I brought shame to the family. He disowned me,” says Ibrahim.
She stays with her mother’s sister on the outskirts of Kaduna. Her situation is worsened due to her early pregnancy. At three months in and with no education or prospects of finding a job, Ibrahim roams the streets of Kaduna selling bean cake and mobile phone vouchers to make ends meet.
According to the International Center For Research on Women (ICRW), the impact of the practice of child marriage is felt both at the individual and societal levels and it is therefore imperative in alleviating poverty and subsequently, promoting economic development.
“Child marriages have an adverse impact on the economy by limiting opportunities for career and vocational advancement for young girls. It therefore disempowers women and stifles the prosperity of a country because when a significant number of the workforce is rendered economically inactive, the nation will suffer,” says Bismarck Rewane, CEO, Financial Derivatives Company in Lagos.
Its health implications are just as dire.
“There are several health risks that these young girls are exposed to. Most of them get pregnant at an age where normal vaginal births are difficult because their hips are not wide enough for the baby to be pushed through the vaginal canal and this can lead to the death of the mother and the baby. Also, the babies are exposed to diseases due to the lack of micronutrients in the girl’s body and most often babies do not survive,” says Dr. Mariam Doku, a pediatrician at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Ghana.
Her claims are further buttressed by the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) that asserts that teen brides are more likely to contract HIV and are also exposed to sexually transmitted infections due to their inability to negotiate safer sexual practices. As President of the IWHC, Françoise Girard, has played a key role in advocacy on sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights with UN agencies.
It is her belief that ending the practice of teen brides is a smart thing to do as it falls in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which has made ending child marriage by 2030 a key target.
Organizations like the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF continue to support efforts in many countries but according to Rewane, much more must be done.
“The notion that sending girls off to marry much older men is a better option is also partly attributable to poverty. For instance, a very poor family is likely to reason that marrying their daughter off early will provide her basic needs and in addition, the gains gotten from her marriage may be part of the survival strategy of the family. So we need to tackle the root of the issue, which is poverty and that means efforts to abolish this practice needs to be a state-level intervention,” asserts Rewane.
For those in remote areas who are dependent on subsistence farming, the practice can be influenced by seasonal conditions. For example, in the years when rains or crops fail, the practice of “drought brides”, thus girls who bring in a dowry, while being one fewer mouth to feed, contribute to pushing up the numbers of teen brides dramatically. Four of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in West Africa’s Sahel and Sahara belt, according to UNICEF.
In many of these communities, a family’s wealth is measured in terms of the herd of cattle they own and young girls are the medium of payment. As policy makers continue to lobby traditional heads to implement the CRA in local communities, the dilemma continues for girls like Ibrahim whose cries for freedom continue to fall on deaf ears.
Noëlla Coursaris Musunka The Trailblazer In The Congo
The story of love, loss and triumph. The story of humanitarian, model and mother, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka.
This is a tale of generational loss. A tale about how, at the tender age of five, a child lost everything she held dear. She lost her mother, her father, familiar surroundings and was relocated from the country she’d come to know as her home. However, in losing so much, she seemed to have gained everything and insists on sharing it with others.
After the death of her father, when Noëlla Coursaris Musunka was five years old, her mother could not afford to keep her and was forced to give her only child (at the time) away in hopes that she would get better opportunities.
Musunka moved to Belgium, and later Switzerland, and was away for 13 years with very little communication with her mother back home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“It was a tough time… I received two or three letters from my mom and spoke to her only twice on the phone,” says Musunka. On her return, at 18 years, she was so struck by the abject poverty that she vowed to contribute to the education of her brothers and sisters, and would give back to her country.
And she has done so in spectacular fashion.
Musunka has since had a flourishing career as a model and has graced the pages of fashion magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire and Elle. The exposure propelled her to pursue her passion for humanitarian and philanthropic work.
When asked about what accolades, such as the one she received from the Nelson Mandela Foundation (in November 2018) and the Enhle Cares Foundation, mean to her, Musunka beams and says: “It’s very special. I’m a pan-Africanist. I love Patrick Lumumba, I love Mandela, I love Sankara. I love all these revolutionary people… who want the best for Africa… The spirit of Mandela is [his] legacy. When people remember Noëlla, I want them to remember my legacy. And my legacy and my message is to give back.”
“I’m very happy that the Mandela family contacted me and said ‘this is what our dad would want. You are a young woman investing in education and that’s the reason we want to honor you’. It’s very touching and I’m not into awards, but this one is very special.”
Since founding the non-profit organization Malaika in 2007, it has grown from a one-room school house to a world-class school that accommodates 314 students of all ages. As the school continues to operate, it plans on adding approximately 30 girls each year.
The Malaika Foundation, which is in the village of Kalebuka, in the southeastern region of the DRC, has also established a community learning center, recreational facilities, 17 water wells and farm land.
This is due to the tenacity and collaborative efforts of 31 Congolese staff members working on the ground in the DRC, and support from a team of 30 volunteers working in the US, Europe, the DRC and other locations.
In Kalebuka, the community plays an integral role in the daily running of the school.
“We have 30 parents a day who come to maintain the school. The whole community is driven. The village takes care of the program and protects it. The community center is good because it’s also important to teach the parents. We have the youth and the parents who come to the community center to learn to read, write, sew, and we have key messages. We also distribute malaria nets.
“So, we have 5,000 people who go there and all programs are free. The school is for free. The staff [members] give of their time, their skills and their money. We have a pro-bono lawyer, pro-bono auditing … [and] we teach the mothers to make the uniforms. We give the girls underwear, socks and shoes.”
The colloquail term ‘say it with your chest’, means to say something with determination, self-assurance and without fear. During her interview with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA at the Da Vinci Hotel in Sandton in Johannesburg in November, Musunka was wearing a t-shirt with the word ‘Revolution’ across it. The education revolution has swept the village of Kalebuka, in the form for Musunka and her team.
WATCH | The Making Of The New Wealth Creators Cover
The New Wealth Creators is the first of its kind list by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. Herein is a collection of female entrepreneurs on the African continent running businesses and social enterprises that are new, offbeat and radical.
These 20 women have been selected because they have created significant impact in their respective sectors by transforming a market or company, or innovating a product or service, and are pioneering their organization(s) in generating new untapped streams of income.
VIEW THE FULL LIST|Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent
These women come from across the continent, from the villages and the suburbs, and are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. They have all adopted sustainable development initiatives in one way or another to help solve Africa’s problems.
They may be wealth creators but their businesses, ironically, did not stem from a need to make money, but rather from the need to solve Africa’s persisting socio-economic challenges.
Economically empowering women has shown to boost productivity. It increases economic diversification and income equality, in addition to other positive developmental outcomes.
Simply put, when more women work, economies are likely to grow.
FORBES WOMAN AFRICA put in months of rigorous research, searching near and far for these inspirational entrepreneurs.
We took into account their business model, new ideas, potential, struggles, social impact, growth, influence, resilience and most importantly, their innovation.
Speaking to FORBES WOMAN AFRICA last year at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, said: “Innovation [is] becoming the cornerstone for our economy going forward.”
As Africa’s population is reported to increase by 53% by 2100, according to the United Nations, new solutions must be created in order for us to keep up.
One question remains: can Africa translate its significant population growth into economic development, and invest this wealth to improve the quality of life?
Entrepreneurship could very well be the answer, or at least, one of the answers.
Last year, the Founder and Chair of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma paid Africa a visit to discuss tangible investment and technology development.
He encouraged African entrepreneurs to take giant leaps in solving the challenges facing the continent and to take advantage of the digital economy.
He said that opportunities lie where people complain.
And these women, through their businesses, have identified just that.
Vijay Tirathrai, director of the Techstars Dubai Accelerator, shared the same sentiments with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
“The new wealth creators, for me, are entrepreneurs who are very conscious about finding solutions in the market place, but from a lens of having social impact or having impacted the environment,” he says.
Tirathrai believes that while servicing consumers, new wealth creators are also “making a safer and a greener planet in the process, eliminating diseases, improving health conditions and advocating for equality for women”.
Women on the African continent have been making headway as drivers of change, and in many ways, they embody new wealth.
They are the true wealth.
As FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, we seek to celebrate such women.
Through this list, money is no longer the central indicator of new wealth creation.
It is about job creation, contributing to healthy societies, recycling waste, giving agency to those who are financially excluded and developing solutions for some of the socio-economic problems we grapple with.
IN PICTURES | Leading Women Summit 2019
These women may all come from different places but they are bound together by one common thread, and that is the thread of new wealth creation.
This compilation is innovative, exciting, inspiring and shows what businesses of the future may look like.
Meet the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA New Wealth Creators of 2019.
IN PICTURES | Leading Women Summit 2019
The FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit which was hosted the by KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government took place on International Women’s Day (Friday, 08 March) at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.
Full list of winners | Leading Women Summit award winners
READ MORE about the New Wealth Creators | Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent
The 2019 Leading Women Summit was a full-day event, with an audience of over 500 women.
The goal was to bring together leading, influential women to share their ideas that are idea-focused, and on a wide range of subjects, to foster learning, inspiration and wonder – and provoke conversations that matter. The 2019 theme for the event was the “New Wealth Creators”.
The New Wealth Creators list, which is the first of its kind, was unveiled at the Summit. It is collection of female entrepreneurs on the African continent running businesses and social enterprises that are new, offbeat and radical.
The Summit celebrated a host of female trailblazers, game-changers and pioneers in African business and society.
Supermodel, philanthropist and cultural innovator, Naomi Campbell was the headline speaker among other global influencers in business, sport, science, entertainment and leadership.
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