From herding goats to protecting women’s rights

“To my family, the loss of ten goats to wild animals that prowl in Kipsing plains, was a misfortune but, to my life, I term this as a blessing in disguise,” said Jane Meriwas, a former indigenous fellow of the United Nations Human Rights office (OHCHR).

Jane Meriwas addressing a group of Samburu women in Kenya © SWEEDOIn many communities all family members have roles to play.  For Jane, growing up in Isiolo district, northern Kenya, her main duty was to guard her father’s goats and sheep.

Jane recounted her fears of returning home one day after loosing 10 animals, her family’s main source of wealth.  She explains that in her community a girl child is seen as a resource because they are married off in exchange for cattle.

“When the goats were mauled by hyenas, I knew what awaited me once I went back to the boma (homestead).  On that fateful day, I got a thorough beating and was forced to rest in bed for two days.”

And as though this was not enough punishment, Jane’s father arranged for her to be married off to “a man twice his age.”

A local priest rescued her from the arranged marriage at the age of seven and enrolled her into a boarding school. “That gesture by the priest was my first step for what I term as the roadmap to liberate the Samburu girl child,” Jane said.
It was indeed a turning point for the university graduate who studied community development. She has now established a non-governmental organisation to protect the dignity and rights of women that battle with promoting girls’ education, and against female genital mutilation in her community.

“Being among the few women from my community to be educated to a college level, I envisage a time when girls will cease being used as a source of wealth and the community will accord them full dignity that they deserve as human beings,” Jane said.

Jane’s organisation, Samburu Women for Education and Environment Development Organisation (SWEEDO), is currently supporting and sponsoring the primary and secondary education of six girls she rescued from planned marriages and possible female genital mutilation.

“I owe my education to the Catholic Church and my late mother,” Jane said, “and the only way to give back to mankind is to campaign for hundreds of girls to stop early and forced marriages as well as female genital mutilation and to enrol them into school.”

Every year, 8 March is celebrated around the world as International Women's Day. This year’s global theme is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women”.

7 March 2010