Mernie feels twice as old as she is. At 41, she is a widow, providing for her nine children. She relentlessly works in the cassava fields, a common culture in Atsimo-Andrefana, the area of Madagascar where she lives. She is trying to give her sons and daughters the life and opportunities they would have had if both parents were there for them.
When her two older daughters turned 15, they received marriage proposals, which Mernie accepted with some relief. She thought that their departure from the household would reduce the financial burden on the family. The weddings were celebrated, and a new phase started in Mernie’s life.
It didn’t last long. Disputes tore apart the families of Mernie’s daughters. They came back to live with their mother, bringing their own children with them. Mernie welcomed her daughters and grandchildren, but as she realized that she would have to provide for even more people, she desperately started looking for a solution.
Around this time, our team invited her to participate in our activities to promote essential family practices. Mernie agreed to join. She listened to our radio serial Aina An-Doharano, attended community dialogue sessions on the WASH initiative on water, sanitation, and hygiene, and engaged in group discussions on the effects of early marriage.
From the start, the activities left a strong impression on her. She had never challenged the traditional norm according to which a girl is an adult, and a potential spouse, from her first menstrual cycle. She had never thought about the physical and psychological impact of early marriage. Learning that early pregnancy could be fatal shocked her. The discussions with our team, the radio drama, and the dialogue that she established with other women shed a new light on gender issues in her community.
Mernie realized that being an adult is a process, not a step. She concluded that agreeing to the marriage of her daughters before they became adults was not an adequate solution to her problems, but rather a source of problems in itself. And so she decided to delay her third daughter’s wedding and to send all of her children back to school, to complete their education.
Despite these additional expenses, Mernie’s finances are looking better now, precisely because of her decision to keep the family together and let her daughters focus on their studies. Everyone at home helps her with household chores and even with her work in the cassava fields. She is earning more money from selling her produce and provides for everyone. Her eldest daughter graduated from college this year.
“The love I have for my children gave me the strength to fight tirelessly for our lives. Thanks to Search, many things got better in my family” – Mernie
Mernie is now an advocate for the rights of women and girls in her community. She is taking part in educational activities and group discussions where she tells her story and encourages other women to change their attitudes towards early marriage.
“I am proud to have served and serve as a model in my community,” Mernie said. Her courage and dedication are inspiring hundreds of women to stand up for their rights. Thanks to her and dozens of other Sheroes, these empowered women are building a future of inclusion and equality for Madagascar.
Learn more about our work in Madagascar here.