March 28, 2019 — If you visit a primary school in Chad you will see a similar number of girls and boys. But as the children get older, the number of girls reduces. Girls are being forced to drop out of school – often because of early marriages and unwanted pregnancies.
I joined the International Rescue Committee’s team in Chad in 2014. Located in the Sahel region of Africa, Chad is facing regional refugee crises, seasonal droughts and flooding that destroy crops and threaten millions of people with hunger.
It’s plain to see that women and girls have been hardest hit. Growing up in Chad, they have been marginalised for decades.
When the IRC first started programming that aimed to protect and empower women in Chad, refugees, displaced people and the local community took us for theorists. They couldn’t see how we could actually support them to rebuild their lives. But as change became reality, we built trust – including through the introduction of IRC women centres and health centres.
One woman told me that whilst men have their “palaver tree,” where they discuss community issues, women, for the first time, now have a place to come together, get advice, chat and socialise. At our centres, which are supported by the European Commission's Humanitarian and Civil Protection department, women can get advice on reproductive health and gender-based violence such as rape, sexual assault or forced early marriage. Survivors are supported with counselling to improve their mental health, and are referred for expert care based on their unique needs. We also help people to recover economically with cash relief, which can help to reduce violence in the long-term.
There’s one other story that has stuck with me. I spoke to a woman who was forced into marriage at the age of 12. She had left the shores of Lake Chad to live in N'Djamena, the capital city, with her husband. He already had two wives. She suffered many miscarriages because of her husband's violence. After she had given birth to a baby boy she escaped from N'Djamena and returned to the Lac region. She took refuge in the IRC’s women's centre, where she was listened to and referred to a mobile health clinic.
Whilst she is still trying to obtain custody of her two-year-old child, we also worked with our partners at the Association of Women Lawyers of Chad to help her to obtain a divorce – breaking free from the violence of her perpetrator.
Stories like these keep me going. Because I know that it’s through empowerment and practical change that we will help women and girls to rebuild their lives.
The IRC in Chad
Find out more about work to rebuild lives.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.