Ending child marriage in Cameroon through education for the rights of young girls Published in 2017 CATHERINE MOTO-ZEH – CAMEROON This story is part of the series We are human rights changemakers to celebrate Equitas’ 50th anniversary. All through 2017, we invite you to discover stories of 50 inspiring human rights changemakers. These are but a few of the hundreds who have changed lives around the world through human rights education with Equitas’ support. “I’ve been bitten by the human rights bug. Today, I can’t ignore a human rights violation.” For Catherine Moto-Zeh, a teacher by profession, the education of young girls is a long-term struggle in Cameroon. “In my country, if a parent has economic problems and has to choose to send his daughter or son to school, his daughter will be the one to stay home and do chores.” Catherine, who had the support of her parents to pursue university studies, is campaigning to give more women like her access to the classroom and the benefits it brings. “When you have to look after a household at 12 or 13 years old and have children at a young age, access to education is extremely difficult, even impossible. Education for girls, especially on human rights, allows girls to understand that they have rights.” Early and forced marriage of young girls in Cameroon violates the right to education. In order to change this practice, Catherine organizes sessions of awareness for parents and youth. In Cameroonian society, fathers decide the marital fate of their daughters. To mobilize populations in different regions of the country, Catherine also targets religious leaders and traditional chieftains, who are influential in local communities. Cameroon’s more than 250 ethnic groups and languages makes Catherine’s task even greater! “For us, it’s important to respect the traditions and cultures of the communities we work with. We have a duty to respect their culture, otherwise dialogue on the rights of young girls, for example, is impossible.” In Catherine’s opinion, human rights education should begin in early childhood. Through her work, she has trained many teachers in different subjects to help them include human rights in the curriculum. Catherine has also worked with teachers to create and run human rights education clubs in high schools. She proudly remembers a girl who was once the president of such a club and went on to work at Cameroon’s Ministry of Social Affairs. In 2002, Catherine traveled to Montreal to participate in Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP), which marked the beginning of a long-standing close relationship with the Canadian NGO! When Catherine returned to Cameroon as a result of her training, people quickly noticed that she was adopting a new pedagogical approach in her seminars and animations in clubs in high schools and colleges. “In Cameroon, you’re used to lecture-style pedagogy. The expert gives a presentation, followed by a discussion. The participatory approach I learned from my Equitas training requires learners to participate more. They retain so much more.” Through the years, Catherine has become a special partner for Equitas in francophone Africa, even becoming president of the Equitas Cameroon Network in 2012. Seeing the need to train more defenders of human rights from Africa, this pedagogy expert helped create the first African regional sessions of the IHRTP in Burkina Faso in 2010, then in 2012 and 2014. The initiative has allowed specialized training on issues specifically affecting African realities. She was also general coordinator of Equitas’ fifth regional human rights training session, held in Cameroon in November 2016. The session dealt with the prevention of torture and welcomed dozens of human rights defenders from seven countries in francophone Africa. Following this training, participants have been implementing collective action in their respective countries, with a view toward topics like the abolition of child trafficking in Cameroon and the ratification of a protocol of the Convention against Torture in Ivory Coast. “There was a time in Africa when people said that human rights were not made for our continent, because they are imported concepts. But when we talk to people about respect, freedom and human dignity, they understand that these rights should also apply here and for everyone.” CATHERINE MOTO-ZEH – Cameroon Inspector, Regional Education Coordinator at the Ministry of Secondary Education, Cameroon Secretary General, Schools as an Instrument for Peace, Cameroon President, Equitas Cameroon Network, since 2012 Coordinator, Equitas Regional Human Rights Training Session in Cameroon, 2016 Educational Coordinator of Equitas Sub-Regional Human Rights Training Sessions, 2011, 2012 and 2014 Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) Alumnus, 2002; IHRTP co-facilitator, 2004; and IHRTP facilitator, 2014 Story written by Paule Portugais-Poirier, Communications Intern, Equitas. Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program is undertaken in part with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Did you like this story? Give us your support! 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