Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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WORKNEH Yadate, GAGE Research and Research Uptake Impact Coordinator, Ethiopia
Nicola JONES, GAGE Director and ODI Principal Research Fellow
YITAGESU Gebeyehu, Asayita College of Teacher Education and Training
TASSEW Woldehanna, Addis Ababa University

This paper explores the experiences of adolescents from pastoralist communities in Afar regional state. Thus far, there is a limited evidence base particularly in regards to the role of gendered social norms in shaping their capability achievements. This paper presents findings framed in terms of a capabilities approach which emphasises investments in adolescent girls and boys as a whole, supporting them to develop the functioning (‘being and doing’) that provides them with the freedom to choose the kind of life they value. In addition to recognising the importance of physical, economic and educational competencies, a capabilities approach highlights the centrality of adolescents’ psychosocial well-being and their ability to exercise both agency and voice in terms of setting and achieving their own goals. The paper draws on mixed methods research: a survey with 500 adolescents and qualitative research with thirty (10-12 years) adolescent girls and boys, and their peers and caregivers in Zone 5 in Afar Regional State conducted in 2017/2018. The data collection is part of the new multi-country "Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence" longitudinal policy research programme funded by the DFID, which aims to better understand how to enhance adolescent development trajectories, including among the most marginalised cohorts, in diverse LMICs. As one of five ‘emerging regions’ in Ethiopia, participation in formal education is still a recent phenomenon in Afar’s rural communities, especially for girls. Conservative social norms around puberty, menstruation and marriage all play a key role in curtailing girls’ continued participation in school once they reach early adolescence. Our findings highlight that only a small minority of girls are able to convert their educations into future economic empowerment. Within this context of curtailed choices, our paper also draws attention to the range of coping strategies that adolescents employ: seeking alliances with influential older brothers to pursue their educations, migration (especially to Djoubti) and suicide ideation in the case of child and forced marriage. The paper concludes by making evidence-informed recommendations about the programming support that adolescents need to ensure health and empowered adolescent to adult transitions, and the particular needs of adolescents from marginalised pastoralist communities.