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‘Education, only route to girl child’s liberation’

By Ujunwa Atueyi   |   11 October 2016   |   3:15 am
PHOTO: Reuters

PHOTO: Reuters

…Non-rescue of Chibok girls, a minus to celebration

Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. A day earmarked by the United Nations for leaders across the globe to recognise the imperativeness of empowering and investing in the girl child. As Nigeria joins other nations to mark this year’s edition, stakeholders who appraised the impact of the celebration five years on avowed that until the country widens access to girl child education, it might continue to witness a delay in developmental and sustainable goals. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes.

Last week, a new gender review released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Global Education Monitoring Report at an event in Paris, ahead of the 2016 International Day of The Girl Child (IDGC), upheld that education remains vital to women empowerment and attainment of gender equality.

The summary of the review showed that education can empower women to become leaders as they acquire literacy, confidence and communication skills. It can also give them a space to learn and practise leadership; as well as gain credibility and influence among leaders and decision-makers.

It also highlighted that educating girls and women would restrain the population growth, which is putting great strains on the planet. What the report intended to achieve as captured by UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, in the report was to vigorously enlighten world leaders on the need to take issues relating to girl child and women more seriously.

This was part of the reason the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2012 declared every October 11, as the International Day of the Girl Child. The overall aim is to among others create and support more programmes and opportunities for girls and increase awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide.

Other objectives as encapsulated by the UN include providing right to education/access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination. Violence against women and child marriage are also part of it.

It is expected that the yearly observance will help create programmes and policies that would eradicate poverty, increase participation of girls in decisions that affect them and end the violence and discrimination among them.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Girls Progress = Goals Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement.” It is hoped that countries will increase investment in collecting and analysing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data, according to information on the United Nations Women website.

However, some stakeholders who spoke to The Guardian on this year’s celebration have frowned on the narratives surrounding the abducted Chibok girls, most especially government’s inability to rescue the girls over two years after their abduction. This they claimed is a deficiency to this year’s celebration, as the leaders are yet to show great commitment to the wellbeing of the girl child.

In fact, they were cynical about government’s efforts to rescue the girls. They also alleged that Nigerian government still does not understand the import of neglecting the girl child.

On the night of April 14, 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. Till date the country is yet to rescue the girls except the few that were reported to have escaped from their abductors.

The latest report on the Chibok girls was a foiled swap deal, which “revealed that the leadership of Boko Haram demanded five billion Euros (about N1.7 trillion) as a ransom for the release of the abducted girls.”

One person that is not happy that the country is witnessing another celebration of the “Day of the Girl Child,” with the whereabouts of the Chibok girls still unknown, is the Human Rights activist and President, Women Arise for Change Initiative, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin.

She said though government has shown some high level of commitment to dismantling the terrorists group, its inability to rescue the girls till date is a shortcoming.

She said: “The Nigerian government should do a lot more in the rescue of the girls, although the Federal Government through the security operatives have been able to smoke some terrorists out of their holes the victory will not be complete without the rescue of our girls. It is so obvious that the Nigerian society is not committed to the wellbeing of the girl child going by the spate of sexual violence on girl children in recent time and the high level of abandonment and threat to the education and health of the girl child.

“Our government should as a matter of urgency or what I will call immediate action review the 1999 Constitution to make it gender-sensitive or implement the outcome of the National Conference held in 2014. Section 29 (4)(b) of the Constitution should be reviewed to accommodate affirmative action provisions. All states of the Federation should adopt the Child Rights Act. States that have adopted the Child Rights Act should ensure its implementation.

She continued: “Government at all levels should engender child-friendly policies in the areas of health, education… And ensure that the policies benefit the girl child. They should enact domestic violence law at all state levels to protect the girl child; raise awareness of law enforcement agencies/officials with respect to the issue of violence against girls, particularly within the home. They should also in addition, provide funding support for the rehabilitation of girl survivors of violence.

“Ministry of Youth and Social Development should work with civil society groups on information, education and communication with stakeholders on the rights of the girl child for greater impact on the eradication of all forms of discrimination against girl child. The Nigerian government should implement policies that challenge trafficking, female genital mutilation, early child marriages, child abandonment, child labour, and other vices against girl children.”

She added that a policy that supports the setting up of psychosocial support service centres that will respond to the needs of girls who have suffered violence should also be formulated.

Appraising the celebration in the last five years, she remarked that celebration of the IDGC had not been given the kind of attention it deserves, as it has not really ventilated the challenges and the frustration of the girl child in the country.

“Although there have been pockets of actions to commemorate the IDGC on the part of civil society organisations in the last five years, the Nigerian government at the various levels have not really been up and doing in the commemoration of the IDGC. The IDGC would have been an opportunity for government to appraise the situation and well being of the girl children, interface with the people and come up with a road-map for the eradication of all forms of discrimination and violation of the girl child’s rights,” she stated.

To this end, Okei-Odumakin, challenged the government, civil society, corporate organisations and individuals to promote and protect the right of the girl child and increase awareness of her needs and potential.

On the part of the Chief Executive Officer of Edumark Consulting, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, government and all stakeholders must take very seriously education of the girl child as that is one sure way of liberating them.

According to her, “Education still remains the quickest way to liberate a mind and no amount of talk can do this if we fail to educate the girl child. I also believe that laws protecting the girl child must not only be enacted but must also be enforced. And we must ensure compliance.

“The journey is still a long one. Despite five years of celebration, the society has not yet been able to effectively protect the girl child. Juvenile rape cases still abound, child brides, among others. Even our creative arts industry has not supported the cause of the girl child. The female is still being portrayed in a way to destroy the self-esteem of the girl child.

On the yet to be rescued Chibok girls, she said: “This remains a sore point. Even after 30 months or so the Chibok girls are still missing. They have lost their innocence; we have killed their dreams and changed the course of their lives. A real shame! It is as if they simply disappeared and we all kept quiet. This is an incident we will never forget because it speaks and cries loudly of our inability to protect the girl child.”

Meanwhile, the National President of the National Union of Lagos State Students (NULASS), Daniju Sultan, has appealed to leaders across all strata to broaden access to girl child education, as it will benefit the nation immeasurably.

The association which is today holding campaign against child rape and molestation as part of the activities to mark the day, also charged schools, religious body and all individuals to rise against girl child abuse and violence and help protect every child with their neighbourhood.

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