Solidarity of Young Girls for Education and Socio-professional Integration (SOJFEP)
Founded in 2011, Solidarity of Young Girls for Education and Socio-professional Integration, also known as SOJFEP, is a network of civil-society organizations working to advance girls’ and women’s rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The group focuses on girls and young women in rural, indigenous, and marginalized communities with the goal of advancing gender equality in these minority communities. SOJFEP takes an intersectional approach in its work, advancing a global feminist vision of equity, empowerment, gender identity, and climate justice. Preventing early marriages and pregnancy is a core part of SOJFEP’s advocacy and programming efforts. SOJFEP provides after-school clubs and other community-based centers which support girls and teach their families about the harms of early marriages. The organization also helps with reintegration efforts for girls who have left school due to early marriages or pregnancies. SOJFEP’s other advocacy activities also include defending the right to education for indigenous girls, combating gender-based violence, promoting reproductive health, and fighting for the inclusion of indigenous people.
SOJFEP operates in the Tanganyika province of the DRC, which has among the highest rates of child marriage in the country. Families often compel girls to leave school and marry early due to financial stressors created by extreme poverty. Child marriages have contributed to high rates of maternal death and domestic violence within the province as well, particularly in indigenous areas which have the highest rates of poverty in the DRC.
SOJFEP aims to address these problems through a comprehensive sexual education program for adolescent girls between the ages of 10 and 19. The program will include after-school activities and train girls to become peer mentors. A total of 24 girls will be selected as peer mentors to teach lessons to their peer group, which will include a total of more than 540 girls. The curriculum will increase knowledge of reproductive health, incorporating topics like access to contraception and safe abortions. SOJFEP will also open support centers for adolescent girls at risk of being forced into early marriage. These centers will offer a space where girls can find a welcoming environment, emotional support, and ongoing guidance.
Through these programs, SOJFEP hopes to raise awareness about the risks of early and forced child marriage and the importance of sexual rights for women and girls. Bringing these important conversations into the community will reduce stigmas and taboos associated with sexual education, giving girls the option to explore reproductive choices that are right for them. Furthermore, as communities increasingly become aware of the dangers of child marriage and early unions, girls will feel more supported to stay in school and pursue their dreams beyond marriage and childbearing.