Changing Minds About Child Marriage
Last year, there were no girls enrolled past the 10th grade at Faroiz Makhamova’s high school in Chorku, Tajikistan. This year, there are 20.
In Faroiz’s rural district, only 42 percent of girls continue their studies after the 9th grade. Many marry early and quit school to take on household responsibilities. Just a year ago, Faroiz, too, was preparing to get married.
But when Faroiz was selected to take part in a summer camp held by the Youth Theater Peace program (YTP), she convinced her parents to delay her marriage until after the camp was over. At YTP camps, both boys and girls use theater to discuss challenges they face in their own communities. Many participants elect to tackle gender-related topics such as domestic violence, changing gender roles in young families, girls’ education, and child marriage.
At the YTP camp, Faroiz and her peers developed a play about child marriage that they later performed in Chorku. Faroiz elected to play the role of an unhappy bride, and the experience moved her deeply. The plot was typical of many girls’ experiences in Tajikistan: Faroiz’s character was forced to drop out of school to marry a man she had never met and struggled to build relationships with her in-laws after the marriage. While preparing for the performance, Faroiz also learned that the legal age for marriage in Tajikistan is 18. Upon returning home, she insisted that her parents allow her to continue her studies and asked them to delay her marriage again until she could complete high school and then a university degree.
Persuading her mother was easy, as she, too, had found it difficult to go through life without an education. Convincing her father was another story. “My father used to say it is a shame to let daughters go away to the capital city for school, says Faroiz. “But after I attended the camp, I can sit with my father and talk, which we hardly did before. We now discuss my participation in the performances and issues that we present. He has also become interested in my studies and achievements at school. I think he understands now that he made a good decision in letting me go to school and delaying my marriage.”
Faroiz is vocal about her newfound passion for girls’ rights. “A girl has to be mature to get married; she has to be strong enough to defend herself and her children in any adverse situations,” she argues. Faroiz believes her experience with YTP better equips her to make decisions and help her peers, and she is excited to give advice to her friends about societal issues like early marriage and its impact on young girls. “Girls in my society mainly suffer because they cannot always say what they want and strive for,” says Faroiz. “If girls obtain confidence they can achieve a lot.” She plans to continue her education and eventually become a doctor.
The Youth Theater for Peace program in Tajikistan is implemented by IREX in partnership with local NGOs EHIO and Fidokor, and is funded by USAID. YTP promotes sustainable conflict prevention at the community level through a participatory theater methodology called Drama for Conflict Transformation. Youth are trained in leadership, conflict resolution, and theater facilitation, and take their performances on the road, sparking dialogue with audiences in their home regions about issues that matter to them.