8 April 2013: My name’s Hawou Adamou. I’m the president of the Hausa Women’s Association for Development (AFHADEV). After 38 years, I am going to share my story. It’s not extraordinary, thousands of other girls and women in Cameroon live similar lives in silence. I speak for them too.
I have lived my whole life in Briqueterie, an extremely poor district in the heart of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. 90% of the people living her are Hausas (Muslims) from the northern most part of the country. Tradition is an important part of lives here.
When I was small, I wanted to go to school. My parents said that because I am a girl, I could not go to school; that I would work in the market all day. I sold doughnuts to help pay for my 3 brothers to go to school. For 10 years, I carried a plate full of doughnuts on my head; every day, wandering the streets of Yaounde until I had sold every single one. I did it because I was under the belief that it was my role; my place as a woman. The Hausa way.
Married at 16
When I was 16, I was married to my cousin following an arrangement between our parents. I became a good housewife. I would cook without any help for our family of 10. I would walk miles to go and get water to do the housework, again without help. All this time, I was pregnant.
My in-laws, especially my mother-in-law, would treat me like a servant and my husband would say nothing. Even though I complained to my parents, they continued to ask me for help. Again, I accepted that this was just married life! I had to carry on. Before my 30th birthday I had been pregnant 12 times, resulting in 6 stillbirths and 6 children, although 2 of my children died. Our living conditions were difficult.
Hausa men dress their wives up in fancy clothing and jewellery. The fancier your wife looks, the more prestige for the family. Women are possessions to be decorated. This was the same for me and my husband. He decorated me with more than 300,000CFA in jewellery (about US$600), even when our children were hungry, even though I could barely speak French or read.
After 19 years together, my husband died. And so began another hardship in my life. My family-in-law threw me out because I was not working. I was like a leech to them; my children a burden. I went back to live with my parents, this time I wasn’t alone though, I had the added burden of having to raise 4 children.
Women and girls unite
I knew in my heart that everything I had been subjected to in my life was all due to the fact that I never went to school. In an attempt to revolt, I decided to unite other Hausa women to help all Hausa girls.
I was fed up. I no longer wanted us to be seen as nothing more than ornaments in our own homes. I was going to do something to really assert my rights. I didn’t want other girls in my region to fall into the same helpless situation as me.
That is why I founded the AFHADEV (Hausa Women’s Association for Development) in 2006, which partnered with Plan in 2008.
Today, my association, which has close to 500 members, works to improve the situation of young girls. Our work includes:
- Teaching parents the value and importance of education for young girls
- Teaching women the importance of self employment/financial security as well as to help them with running incoming generating activities.
- Educating women about child illness, HIV and sexual health
- Advocating to parents, men, religious leaders and communities so that they too understand the suffering that girls are subjected to through child marriage, and the need to abolish this practice.
It takes time to change traditions, but I believe this is so important, I keep working.