Two weeks ago Theresa (not her real name) counted herself among the luckiest of girls in Sudan. A bright, energetic and inquisitive 10th grader, she loved school and had her heart set on becoming a doctor. At the end of March she went home to her village for the Easter holiday. Several days later she reappeared at the school's front gate, utterly distraught. "I've been married off to an old man for 40 cows," she wailed. "My life is finished." She could not be comforted.
Early marriages. Dowries of cattle. Wedding promises sealed when girls are still infants. Complex arrangements involving parents and uncles and the needs of extended family to gain cows or pay off debts. All of this leaves young Sudanese girls extremely vulnerable. The dominant "cattle culture" that deems females to be worth less than livestock will change only when more and more girls become educated, recognize their human dignity, claim their voice, and assume their rightful place in civil society.