LSM’s Family Preservation Solution for Vulnerable Children and Their Single Mothers in Ethiopia
Being either a woman or a child in developing countries like Ethiopia can be dangerous. A low view of women and systems of profit that rely on the exploitation of the vulnerable often put single mothers and their children at a catastrophic disadvantage, as laid out in Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky. Single mothers and children in Ethiopian society suffer from disadvantages that place them in precarious situations.
In Ethiopia, women are often expected to marry at a young age. Unfortunately, these marriages can sometimes be abusive and many do not last. This is only made worse by the fact that in rural areas, reports find that women who have no husband are often looked down on. In some cases, they are even described with terms that hold the connotation of prostitution. These negative labels often make it difficult for women to care for themselves and their children.
Tragically, desperate mothers with no way to provide for their children often have no choice but to turn to prostitution to survive. Addis Ababa’s red-light district is estimated to contain 200,000 prostitutes, many of whom are trapped in their work, which leads to severe trauma and a high risk of HIV. Outside of prostitution, single mothers who attempt to make money on their own are often only informally employed (without official paperwork) which makes them more vulnerable to workplace abuse. Women in Ethiopia already face financial constraints in starting businesses and seeking employment, so the additional challenges that single mothers face, including marginalization and serving as their children’s sole caretakers, make commercial success almost impossible.
UNICEF estimates that 36 million Ethiopian children suffer from poverty. In Addis Ababa, a study found a 38.5% prevalence of child abuse, with 75% of victims coming from a single-parent family where the child is more vulnerable due to the parent’s inability to constantly supervise. These children are also vulnerable to becoming victims to the sex industry. Interviews and studies reflect that 50% of children in Addis Ababa were in this situation before age sixteen. Children in places like Addis Ababa are also at high risk for malnutrition due to poverty. Disadvantages like these further the cycle of need.
Any effective solution to this issue must be holistic, as each issue involved has significant implications on the others. Resources such as business training, spiritual growth, financial resources, addiction recovery, and community support are critical to meeting the needs of these mothers and their children.
LSM provides free business training for single mothers, empowering them to launch businesses. By investing financial resources, providing personalized education, and equipping women with tools for long-term success, LSM creates an avenue through which single mothers can support themselves and their children. Resources range from temporary financial support to food and clothing, which LSM gives single mothers until they are able to support themselves.
Real-world examples documented in books like Half the Sky show when organizations like LSM help a woman attain financial self-sufficiency, these efforts improves their lives not just monetarily, but socially as well. In a culture where single women are often devalued, proof of personal success shows the culture that these ladies are worthy of respect. The authors of Half the Sky reported that women were less likely to experience abuse or be ostracized when they had their own business. As a result, these women no longer turned to dangerous and undignified means of sustaining themselves, and their families thrived.
Social Support and Ministry
In Ethiopian culture, the family serves as a woman’s main support network. Women who, for whatever reason, are no longer married are often outcasts and targets of gossip. Therefore, it is imperative that single women in Ethiopia receive social support through a strong faith community. LSM accomplishes this through weekly spiritual lessons, times of prayer, a positive faith-based community devoid of shame, and resources for trauma recovery. These LSM efforts address the material, mental, and spiritual needs our mothers, equipping them to provide for their kids and to empower other women in their communities.
The Goal: Family Preservation
Each of these components contributes toward our goal of preserving a single mother and her children as a family unit. In giving mothers a means through which to care for their children, LSM helps single mothers build strong mother-child relationships. But LSM does not invest solely in the mothers. We also invest directly in the children to further combat generational cycles. Through covered tuition and donated school supplies, the children are provided with education that lessens their future risk. LSM ensures that each child has access to mentoring from local churches as well as social services. By supporting these kids at a young age, we spare them from trauma and hardships, as well as their repercussions, further promoting generational change in Ethiopia.