LONDON, United Kingdom — Social Development International (SODEIT), established in 2005, is an NGO with a community-wide participatory approach based in Cameroon’s South-West Region. SODEIT has coordinated several national and international initiatives on empowering women in Cameroon as well as promoting health, education, livelihood and education of young girls.
The Effect of Adolescent Pregnancy
Women who give birth at an early age are usually more susceptible to a higher risk of complications and poverty. UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report in 2016 showed that “Cameroon ranks 20th in the countries with the highest prevalence of child brides.” In fact, the study found that around 75% of girls were married before the age of 16, and 38% were married before the age of 18.
According to the World Health Organization, globally, the adolescent birth rate in 2019 was 44 per 1,000 adolescent girls aged 15–19 years. According to the United Nations Statistics Division, during 2000-2017, the adolescent birth rate in Cameroon was 126.5 per 1,000 adolescent girls aged 15–19 years. Teenage girls in Cameroon are often at a higher risk of having unwanted pregnancies and must pause their normal lives and rights to explore their other options for the future. These young women lose potential development opportunities, face restricted life options and increase the likelihood of poverty.
Since 2009, SODEIT has reached more than 2,000 adolescent girls and young women through health education, entrepreneurship, finance, technology and empowerment training. A program for training girls as peer health educators helps girls form companionships and communities. It also allows young girls to develop health literacy to use effective contraceptives and protect themselves. The goal is to train 3,500 girls as peer health educators.
While employing “a three-pronged approach” that concentrates on gender advocacy, public engagement and policy change, SODEIT has established a link between education, economic empowerment, entrepreneurship and advocacy. It has developed a “partnership with gender and women empowerment programs as well as business and advocacy organizations.”
From 2012 to 2015 the Girls Effect Fund of Global Giving USA provided grant support to SODEIT for its tireless service to girls and women empowerment through the Teenage Mother Empowerment program. This award enhances SODEIT’s community service to girls and women groups for three years. Concerning the gender disparity in STEM fields, it established a Girls Tech Documentation Center and a Teenage Mother Professional Institute in Buea, Cameroon.
The Borgen Project interviewed SODEIT’s pioneer and founding CEO Suliaman Turay. He discussed the professional training program that SODEIT began in February 2019. The program combines a one-month internship program in a hospitality institution and two months of training with theory, tutorials and practical lessons for teenage mothers on housekeeping and childcare in Tole village, Cameroon. “It is crucial for volunteers to get involved and help support these initiatives financially in order to restore equal opportunities for teenage mothers to pursue their passions and prevent more girls from falling in the trap,” told The Borgen Project.
Turay’s community engagement started in 1991 when he piloted a community project aimed to combat drug abuse in youths. It also encouraged youth participation in community development and for parents to send their girl children to school in Sierra Leone. He has extensive experience managing international teams and youth exchanges.
Turay led international teams in the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mauritania and Mali. These teams implemented projects focused on HIV/AIDS education, environment/natural fibers sustainability, orphans and vulnerable children education, teenage mothers’ empowerment and youth entrepreneurship.
Decreasing the Gender Gap in STEM Programs
The gender gap in STEM programs is a critical issue. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization stated that women only account for around one-third of STEM students in higher education worldwide. Further, only 3% of these women select information and communication technologies (ICT) studies.
The gender STEM gap is alarming, particularly given that STEM professions are often referred to as the “jobs of the future, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development.” SODEIT’s projects emphasize gender equality in education in rural areas by equipping girls” with the financial means and materials needed to attend Vocational and University STEM courses.” These graduates will be at the forefront of a vibrant new workforce that Cameroon required for its developing economy in 2035 and beyond.
“We believe these initiatives can give hope to girls who thought they were destined to drop out of school or have arranged marriage,” Turay states. “Educated women can better ignite change. SODEIT will continue to facilitate social and economic empowerment of teenage mothers in the poorest communities in Africa by providing sustainable solutions through local education, health care, training and empowerment opportunities based on an approach that ensures basic human rights, compassion and service to humanity.”
It is necessary to recognize women’s input and needs for development through a gender lens. All these efforts can contribute to closing the gender equity gap in Africa. Future structural change will be helpful to bring transformation. SODEIT is doing its best to start empowering women in Cameroon.
– Aining Liang