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. Weadvisethem to nevermarry 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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