In Ethiopia, the Population Council conducted a population-based survey of young people and women in order to shape policies and programs to improve their lives.
To develop effective social programs and policies, governments and program managers need solid, reliable data about the challenges young people and women face. Yet it is rare that in-depth data exist on the needs of these populations, especially in developing countries.
To generate the data needed to inform policies and programs for teens and women, the Population Council interviewed 4,696 males and 4,800 females aged 12–24 and 4,824 women aged 24–49. Participants were asked about personal experiences in education and schooling, puberty, drugs and alcohol, and other topics.
The study found that a large proportion of young people—20%—had lost one or both parents. Among all adolescents, significant proportions were not living with either parent, even when their parents were alive. Less than one-third of adolescents reported having discussions with their parents about HIV and AIDS, sex, and marriage. Only a small minority of mothers or fathers talked to their daughters about menstruation, and many girls had no foreknowledge of menstruation. The vast majority of young people and parents wished that they could communicate more freely with each other. When asked about corporal punishment, boys more often seemed to be the target of parental beatings than girls.
Among young people, most sexual activity took place in the context of marriage, especially among girls; 89% of girls first had sex with their husband. A considerable proportion of young women described coercive circumstances surrounding their sexual initiation, including those who first had sex within marriage. 17% of girls said their partner would not take “no” for an answer, and 14% said that physical force, or rape, was used. 11% reported being threatened, and 6% were hit or beaten during their first experience of sex. Overall, one-third of girls experienced at least one circumstance that is considered coercive during their first sexual experience. 15% of sexually experienced young women had ever been raped or forced to have sex, and a considerable number blamed themselves for the occurrence and did not tell anyone about it. 10% of married young women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands.
Young people’s educational participation seemed to be increasing, as reflected in increased rates of attendance across successive cohorts of young people. Young people, especially those in rural areas, start school extremely late. Rural boys’ mean age at school entry was more than 10 years. Reasons for boys leaving school were mainly lack of financial support and farming and herding duties; reasons given by girls were marriage, followed by domestic duties. Girls with low levels of education and those residing in rural areas were more likely to be married early. Among girls who were married by age 15, 79% had never been to school. Among rural girls, 26% were married by age 15 and 63% were married by age 18. One-third of married girls did not want to get married. 22% did not want their marital sexual initiation at the time it happened.
Few young people, female or male, have received skills training and, among those who have, most have not been able to put the skills to use. Reasons for this outcome were mainly inability to find a job or lack of startup capital. 38% of males and 23% of females had ever worked for pay. The type of paid work in Ethiopia is highly sex-specific. Girls are mainly engaged in domestic work and the selling of small, inexpensive items; boys mainly work as farmers or in a wide variety of other jobs, such as herding and construction. Boys earn roughly 50% more than girls, in part because girls are engaged in low-paying jobs, such as domestic work.
The survey provided baseline information for four new UN-funded initiatives in Ethiopia, which aim to improve the circumstances surrounding adolescent health and development, gender-based violence, women’s and girls’ empowerment, and female genital cutting/mutilation.