Sophia leads a community workshop on spousal abuse. Photo courtesy of Sophia Atadana.

GHANA: Girls Need to Know What a Good Marriage Looks Like

Through education, Sophia Atadana helps girls escape cycles of abuse.

What if Ghanaian youth were educated on what it means to have a healthy relationship in a marriage?

As a young lady, I always dreamed of having a good marriage. Growing up, though, the only advice I received about marriage was to be submissive and obedient. The quality of the marriage was never the point.

In my community, I saw men verbally and physically abuse their wives. I did not think that this was good, but it was a common practice. I never thought it was that bad—until it happened to me.

I ended up in an abusive marriage that nearly took my life. Looking back, there were obvious signs of abuse in the relationship before we were married. Now I know how I could have avoided marrying an abuser, but at the time I didn’t know any better. I never learned about spousal abuse at school and my loved ones never gave me any advice.

Spousal abuse affects victims, but it also affects their children and their children’s children. My former husband’s grandmother and mother were in abusive marriages. My husband never learned how to treat women well and transferred the wrong example to our marriage. I didn’t want my two daughters thinking that an abusive marriage was normal, so I divorced and broke this cycle. Knowing what I know now about spousal abuse, it is my prayer and hope that no young lady should ever find herself in such a relationship.

In Ghana, patterns of abuse begin at a young age. UNICEF reports that 17% of adolescent girls age 15 to 19 in Ghana report experiencing physical violence, and 150 million girls under the age of 18 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence.

What if Ghanaian youth were educated on what it means to have a healthy relationship in a marriage? What if they learned about spousal abuse? What if they learned that they have a choice in who they marry?

I founded Bendoweh Foundation to break the vicious cycle. We educate the youth on spousal abuse so that they are able to identify abusers and avoid marrying them.

We work on changing the assumptions young girls have about marriage. It is common to hear girls say things like, “If I marry him he will change.” “He is rich, so he will take care of me.” “If only I can be pregnant of him, he will marry me.” In our work, we teach girls how these mindsets can lead them toward abusive marriages.

Through education, we also aim to reduce teen pregnancy and early and forced marriage in Ghana. It is typical for parents, especially in the rural areas, to force a daughter to marry simply because a man or boy got her pregnant. The fact that a man got a girl pregnant does not mean he wants her as a wife; these girls are at risk for abuse.

We educate both parents and girls to understand that this is not the best practice, and we teach girls how to avoid getting pregnant before marriage. We advise them to never marry a man just because he got her pregnant.

Society doesn’t want to talk about spousal abuse, but we need to talk about it to break the cycle. Our goal over the next two years is to train 50 women in each of the 10 regions of Ghana to work in the communities. We are training ten girls in each high school to be ambassadors to carry this message to their communities and towns. In the next five years, we plan to reach all secondary schools and universities in Ghana with our message.

Our goal is for women to marry men they truly love and respect, men who will treat them well. When I was a girl, I dreamed of a good marriage, but I didn’t know what one looked like. We are teaching girls what they should expect for themselves—marriages that improve their lives instead of ruining them.


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Comments

Dear Sophia, I am glad to read your article here. You are a wise person. You have good insight to changing your society and promoting healthy marriages. I especially like your idea of training 50 women in each of the 10 regions of Ghana; and training 10 girls in the high schools to be ambassadors of this way of thinking. This is building leadership. Keep up your good work.

Yes! My sister. I think it is a great idea to involve the parents of these children who are getting married still as kids, so that both the boys and girls will be educated about this. Powerful step!

I love it  when women and girls  are empowered to make their own choice.  Keep it up girl! women and girls should be educated to know all signs of an abusive person, and to end all relationships even if it  is their spouse.

I love this step towards more power to the women and girls - letting them make their own choice in personal matters, such as love. And it is great that you will be reaching out to girls at younger levels too, such as in secondary school, which can be a confusing and vulnerable time for them.

Dear Sophia, I absolutely loved this story. Thanks so much for sharing it! Your foundation is doing such incredible work. Breaking cycles is difficult for so many reasons but I love what you are trying to do to break those cycles of abusive marriages in Ghana. I truly believe education is the answer and solution to bring about much needed changes around the world. Your story is inspiring and makes me feel more hopeful about the possibility of change.

All my best wishes,

Julia

Hi Julia, I agree with you, breaking this cycle is even more difficult but with time the change we all want will be felt. Thanks for the encouragement

SAS

Love your story. And it is so true. Spot on. In Ghana but also in Zambia where I have an NGO. They must SEE good marriages to emulate them but they are hard to find. One thing I have been doing is I built a library, and have a book club for the girls and we have a Girl Talk Club. And I have them read books about GOOD MEN, who make good choices, are responsible, into sports, how they treat women and girls. And we discuss openly about these things. In this way they see healthy relationships through books. In Zambia so many of the girls are already pregnant at age 14-15 that it is difficult. So, I take a few at a time who seem to "get it" and show up and now I have some of them teaching the book club and telling other girls about relationships and reading and discussing what this all means and how to say "No, I'm not ready for that yet" and how to walk away from someone you like because you know he is not good for you. There is so much to it and your article deserves so much praise because it is so right and so relevant and important. Thank you. Wendy Stebbins

Wendy Stebbins

P.S. I also meant to say that reaching out to secondary school age girls is great. But I also encourage you to start with middle school age girls  because in Zambia so many of the girls are pregnant at age 14-15 as I mentioned before. I am trying to get some girls with potential actively involved in something of interest to them that can occupy their time and increase their skills, such as writing, getting active in something so they don't think just marrying without thinking it out has less appeal for them. Sorry to be writing on and on.

Wendy Stebbins

Dear Adisatu111,

Good idea to teach girls about a good marriage, it is unfortunate that you had to experience it, I hope you have recovered from the trauma. What do you think about boys being taught to be good husbands too?. Several of them don't get any kind of guidance , if they are lucky to have a father figure who is upright and interested in grooming his children then they turn out better, however, quite often most cultures concentrate on training girls to be good wives - most times in the lines of submissiveness. Its exciting to read your article where you talk of marriage as a whole. Best wishes to you in your healing journey and work.

LVB

Hi Lillian, I'm fully recovered by the grace of God. Yes boys will also be considered for it takes two to be in a marriage.Just that the focus is more on the girls and thanks for the encouragement.

SAS

Sophia, thank you so much for sharing your story.  In Guatemala the rates of spousal abuse are very high too. I can see clearly what has to be done, in order to help this young women in order to choose wisely their partners.   I love the idea of training ambassadors, since it easier to work from within.  You are doing such a great job!  best regards and wishes!

Hello Iya, happy Easter to you. Have you been able to download the proposal form? I have tried all the links ,but cannot find the form.Please get in touch asap for tomorrow is the deadline.hoping to hear from you soonest

SAS

Hi Sophia ,your story is similar to that of my mother ,i salute your bavery to accept divorce in ou cotradictory african set up .My mother endured in the marriage till the day my father died.How ever that tremendously affeted m siblings and i.However i look forward to marriage but not an abusve one ,i look forward to a heathy marriage or nothing ,giving no chances to abuse

Hi MelyzaJ, it's good you have learned the good side of abusive marriage from your parents  and so you will not end up in one. That's the change we want. Thanks for the encouragement 

SAS

Dear Sophia,

Its true that we have to teach them young.In Swahili its said 'Samaki mkunje angali mbichi' which translates to 'you can only fold raw fish fresh from the lake' .

And yes when you fold dry fish it breaks. When they get thïs knowledge early enough the cycle of abuse is broken.

Thanks for making their choices and lives better

Much love

 

Its h

Immah

Hello Sophia,

 

What great work you are doing? It often hurts to know that many young women enter into relationships that leave them broken and wounded. Perhaps by having this form of education early would stop the increase of women who fall into violence influenced and ingrained relationships.

Best wishes in all your endeavors.

 

Eseoghene

Hi Adisatu

Thank you for sharing with us this lovely article.  It is good for girls to know what a good marriage looks like not only in Ghana but all over the world. This is something we tend to overlook many times and yet very important.  Girls get married and they don't have a clue about keeping things together in a marriage. I think as women  and mothers we need to talk more to girls so that they are not subjected to domestic violence. 

Stay blessed my sister 

Mrs. Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi Head of Legal and Advocacy Centre for Batwa Minorities a.kiddu@gmail.com cfmlegal@gmail.com Skype: mrs_muhanguzi

Dear Sophia,

Thanks for the wonderful piece. It couldn't have been any better time than now.  Many marriages will survive if only couples will appreciate that their partners are not punching bars but helper meet.

Solomon