Ghana, Africa Region — In parts of northern Ghana, it's common for a man to pay a bridal price of cows to the family of the woman he wants to marry. In some situations, young teenage girls are placed in marriages with men four times their age.
"These girls are forced into marriages and they become not really wives, they become servants," said Frank Mills, a Nazarene district superintendent who was recently selected as justice coordinator for Nazarene Youth International on the Africa Region.
Elsie, a single woman in her early 20s from Ghana, was determined to go to school. But tuition, even for high school students, is very expensive, and her parents weren't willing to help pay.
"The parents don't really see the need of investing in their (daughters), because whether they are educated or not, you get your cows," Mills said. "Four cows, one girl."
Elsie continued to study and resisted pressure from her family and community to get married. She finished high school and got accepted into nursing school. She got involved in a social justice youth club at church. The church raised money to put Elsie through nursing school.
Churches are supporting other young women like Elsie by raising money for their education and taking in girls who have been disowned by their families, Mills said. Girls who have turned to selling sex to pay for school are now receiving financial and emotional support from a loving church family.
Elsie is about to graduate as a nurse, and she goes around her rural community providing blood pressure checks, treating wounds and offering medical advice.
"In the past, this was all done by guys," Mills said. "In her area, she's the only girl who has gone to nursing school."
Elsie has become the leader of her youth club, working alongside young men and women to promote respect and dignity for both genders.
Some of the women in a youth club have approached their village chief to ask for a piece of land to farm, Mills said. They told him if they could grow and sell crops, they wouldn't have to bother their parents for money. The chief agreed, and the women are now raising crops to support their endeavors.
Mills also shared about a young church member from Nigeria who is studying counseling so that he can help improve the health of families in his community. Premarital counseling is rare in that area, Mills said, and families struggle with domestic abuse and mistreatment.
These young leaders are changing mindsets in their communities, Mills said. Young men are committing to only one spouse. Young women are empowered to continue their education.
Mills plans to train more church members across Africa who can lead social justice efforts at the local level.
"Some people are really living with people ... who are mistreated and marginalized, but they don't really notice," he said. "So I just want to bring awareness. Don't just look inward, but outward, look around. What is happening? How are other people being treated? The Bible says we should treat others as we would like others to treat us. So we need to ask ourselves, is everyone OK?"
Nazarene youth are helping to lead the way in addressing these questions.