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Stakeholders chart path to glorious future for the girl child

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
15 October 2022   |   4:07 am
‘I do not regret having all daughters, I don’t miss having a biological son, they have been a blessing and a source of joy to me’, says Hannah Okoye, a retired schoolteacher.

Officer-in-Charge of UNESCO Regional Office, Abuja, Lamine Sow (middle); with female students from selected schools in the FCT during an event organised by UNESCO and Stand With A Girl Initiative (SWAGI) to commemorate the 2022 International Day of Girl Child in Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: NAN

‘I do not regret having all daughters, I don’t miss having a biological son, they have been a blessing and a source of joy to me’, says Hannah Okoye, a retired schoolteacher.

‘I remember getting mocked by family and friends for not making an effort to have a male child after having four daughters. Today, they are educated and doing well in their various fields.”

A 30-year-old Ngozi Eze, a mum of three girls said: “I am grateful for the children I have and I am not making any effort to have another. I am satisfied even as I don’t get any pressures from my husband for a male child. We will train them to the best of our ability and expose them to what is supposedly due a male child.”

Today, the girl child is gradually beginning to get support needed to thrive, despite the obvious challenges.

In commemoration of the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child with the theme ‘Our Time is Now – Our rights, our future’, there is increased attention on issues that matter to girls amongst governments, policymakers and other stakeholders. Overtime, the girl child has shown that if given adequate support, skills and opportunities, and responsibility, she can be the change maker, driving progress in her community for the benefits of all, including women, boys and men. While girls continue to face challenge of education, which further affects their physical and mental wellness, investing in their future will keep them accelerated for leadership and innovative potential.

Reacting to the challenges facing the girl child, Executive Director, Spaces for Change, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri said: “For too long, history, culture, tradition have relegated the girl child and made her feel like a second class citizen in her family just on the basis of gender. Thankfully, there have been so many legal, policy and cultural developments showing that all the stereotypes are changing and traditions are beginning to witness some dramatic reforms.

“Increasingly, families are beginning to understand that the girl child is as much a child as the boy child. Women who don’t have male children don’t have to feel to be under pressure to do the dandiest things to have a male child. They no longer feel insecure. A lot of women are increasingly having the understanding that they don’t have to do crazy things to have a male child. Some of the changes we have seen are based on the glorious interventions of women like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Chimamanda Adichie. There are a number of banks in the country being led by women and women are also championing innovations and initiatives which have made the world to have a rethink as it no longer matters if a child is male or female. I must give kudos to the women who are touch bearers for the laudable impact and have influenced families and societies to begin to think differently about the girl child.”

Recently, the Rivers State government enacted a law that prohibits disinheriting women from their father’s properties. Ibezim-Ohaeri urged states especially in the South East to borrow a leaf from this.

“We need more legal reforms and social pressures to conform to these reforms, else the struggle to achieve gender equality will be meaningless.”

She stressed that there is still a lot more to be done. “We know that stories of child bride still happen in some parts of the country, we also need some constitutional reforms where we want age of marriage to be increased so that women can go to school and have some education before they can think about marriage. We are aware of places where they still practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). While we celebrate the process that has been made, all hands must be on deck to ensure that the remaining areas where the gaps are evident are dismantled.”

For Executive Director, The New Generation Girls and Women Development Initiative (NIGAWD), Abimbola Aladejare-Salako, empowerment and capacity building of the girl child is a key action and way forward beyond the challenges they encounter.

“Girls need to be given more opportunities to learn, grow and express themselves in their areas of interest. When we empower girls to speak for themselves, we invest in the quality of women we will have in the future.

“It is good that we work with girls but it is best when we empower the girls to stand up and speak up for themselves. So we need to continuously give platforms to young girls to develop their capacity to interact with society, expand their horizon and engage other girls. Building a girl child’s negotiation skill, communication skill, relational skill as well as sexual and reproductive health capacity will help them navigate through life,” she explained.

Aladejare-Salako added that action plans could be executed to yield maximum impact if there is strengthened advocacy and empowerment. “Stakeholders do not realise the power they have in effecting change in the girl child. A principal that insists on building single sex toilet will encourage more girls to attend school, same with a parent who choose not to allow child marriage or FGM, is protecting the interest of the girl child. If policies are put in place for the benefit of the girl child, more changes and growth will emerge.”

On the action plan to improve and project the girl child, Executive Director, Heir Women Development, Añuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi, said: “It is Intentionality. Now, we need to be deliberate to attend to barriers that have and still limit the girl child from the home to institutions of intellectual development, communities to law making systems, avoiding exclusion and looking at diverse abilities. We need to engage in actions that produce the desired results to re-position the girl and move from tokenism to intentional representation.”

Ola-Olaniyi canvassed what she described as conscious representation.

“What the girls are seeing now isn’t showing that women rights have been limited and I say that because across leadership positions, women are still missing. Girls should know that everyone is called to lead and everyone, including girls, can and should also lead.

“One key action is educational representation. Where are our girls in such spaces? Be intentional in creating platforms that girls can be represented. What information are parents getting to support them in re-engineering their mindset about intentionality of purpose for the girl? How are social norms and attitudes towards the girl presented? Are we still on gender assigned roles or are we having these conversations so that girls aren’t back benched? What is religion and the books saying about the rights of girls? Can we draw out stories that represent women who made impact?

“The spaces that we know our girls are in are also spaces that need to be intentionally questioned on the mindsets scripted about the girl and intentionally challenge such scripted thinking.”

Ola-Olaniyi described her book, More Than Just Pretty, as one of her impact-driven initiatives to support girls and young women unlearn myths and mindset that aren’t intentional in supporting the achievement of their purpose.

“I am a tutor of leadership and life skills in secondary schools, also our animated story developed by my team. We are re-engineering the mindsets of the girl child.”

The Founder/Executive Director, Learning Through Skills Acquisition Initiative (LETSAI), Mariam Aliyu said more girls should be enrolled in school.

“There should be awareness on the importance of education and the effect of early and forced marriage on the girl child and her parents. There should be continuous empowerment of the girl child through skill acquisition programmes. We must ensure the safety of the girl child physically, emotionally and mentally.

“Aid from the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and other donors who are into education for sponsorship should be utilised for maximum impact. There should be use of temporary learning space and other government facilities for learning purposes, provision of educational materials and the recruitment of teachers.”

On her activities on empowering the girl child, Aliyu said: “We have been conducting informal education for children, especially girls in our implementing communities where we teach them how to read and write and also showcase their artistic skills. We have been creating awareness at the community level on the effect of girl child marriage and the importance of education. Also, through our income generating activities (IGA), girls who are enrolled into it are taught skills that make them independent.”

For the founder of Network of Women With Disabilities, Lois Auta, the theme for the year is a reminder of the need to ensure inclusivity and accessibility for young girls living with disabilities.

“There should be policies and agenda in organisations that make it inclusive for girls living with disability. Doing this means giving us our rights and giving us a future.”