I want every girl child in Northern Nigeria to know her worth and have a voice – Jennifer Agunloye
One of the biggest challenges of the girl child in Northern Nigeria is the way they are mostly objectified or given away in marriage at an early age, thereby making it difficult for most of them to get basic education or even have access to infrastructure that prepares them for the future. Jennifer Agunloye is giving these girls hope through her G.I.S.T Foundation (Girls Should Thrive), a Kano-based registered NGO focused on raising female leaders from disadvantaged communities through entrepreneurship, education and technology. The award-winning writer and internationally trained civic leader certified by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln is passionate about community development through women empowerment. She is a Certified Leadership Coach, who is inspiring youths and raising female leaders from disadvantaged communities across Africa through the Tagit Academy.She’s also the founder of Herfreekan Ventures, a social enterprise set up to empower women financially and Co-founder of Agric-farms enterprise focused on reducing hunger and poverty through agriculture.
She is impacting the lives of the girl child and women through her other initiatives like “March Against Hunger Project”, “Safe Space Program” and Support Her Effort (SHE), which focuses on supporting women with small businesses hawking in the street in different slums.
So far, Jennifer has empowered over 50 girls and reached over 3000 families in Kano State. She shares her inspiring story with me in this motivating and eye-opening interview, highlighting some of the major problems of the girl child in Northern Nigeria and how she’s amplifying their voice to give them hope.
My childhood did prepare me for this even though I didn’t realise it then. I was overweight as a child and that made me grow up with a lot of self- esteem issues. Though I was lucky to have encountered the right set of people who saw my potential and nurtured it, I noticed that a lot of girls who were growing up with terrible self-images for different reasons were settling for less in life and this was putting them at a disadvantage. This was one of the inspirations for going all out with our organisation. I also went to school with a lot of girls with amazing potentials, but who have just refused to dream because of the environment they were growing up. There, women were just considered just good enough to be wives and mothers, so any woman with a dream was considered abnormal.
Inspiration behind GIST
I started GiST as an online blog focused on inspiring girls to dream and believe in themselves. But after my university education, I returned to the community where I had my secondary school education and I realised that most of the girls were now young mothers of 2 – 3 children with no source of livelihood. The level of poverty and abuse in that community was increasingly in an alarming way and, worse still, the younger girls were headed in the same direction. I knew that if something was not done, the numbers would just continue to sky- rocket. So it dawned on me that the people who needed what I was sharing on my online platform were not on the Internet. They were on the streets and in those villages and undeserved communities. This was what inspired the Girls Should Thrive Initiative to become what it is today.
Combating the demoralisation of the Girl Child in Kano
Our work is focused on getting the girl child to see herself for who she really is – a beautiful brilliant human being that can achieve anything she sets her heart to. We focus on challenging her mindset. Getting her to see herself differently, to believe in herself and make an effort to change her life and not give up, no matter what life throws at her. Simply put, we believe that when these girls allow their potentials to gain expression, everyone will have no choice but to reckon with them. This is how we confront the demoralisation; getting the girls to see that they deserve better and are capable of more.
Impact of our activities in Northern Nigeria
Through our March Against Hunger Project we’ve been able to enlighten over 3000 families on the importance of educating their female children. One of our major success stories is Maman Amira, the mother of a crippled girl who we met living in the street during our march against hunger. We fixed the roof of her house and empowered her to start up a business. Now, Maman Amira has a poultry business that is empowering six women through a community-based cooperative and Amira is now in school preparing to sit for her final exams. Also, through our Safe Space Program, we’ve provided indepth leadership and entrepreneurship training to over 1000 girls and have so far empowered over 50 girls like Kudirat, who has now registered her business and reached over 3000 families.
Challenges of being an Advocate
One of the major challenges I’ve faced is the challenge of keeping the girls coming for our trainings. The girls usually have to be provided with incentives to keep them coming for a while before they realise the value of what they are being given. Since our organization has operated largely based on donors for individuals and private organizations, it has been very difficult to provide those incentives and hence we loose some of our participants along the way and usually have to go back and start afresh with them when next we come for the next batch of training, hoping earnestly that they would follow through till the end.
Our empowerment programmes
The Support Her Effort (SHE) project was inspired by one of our March Against Hunger beneficiaries who had given up on her business after facing some challenges, but decided to pick it back up after we spoke to them about the importance of entrepreneurship. An elderly woman with the responsibility of training her grandchildren because their father (her oldest son) is epileptic, she collected some goods on credit and started all over.
After I spoke to her, I just realised there are many like this woman who are making intense efforts to keep their businesses alive so they can make ends meet. We decided to start supporting such women to encourage them and boost their businesses. The project selects one woman a month and, at the end of the year, we select the most outstanding one among them who has done amazingly well with the investment and give her an even bigger investment. Our goal is to increase the frequency to one woman weekly and take the project to the next level of training these women on how to grow their businesses and select at least 10 women annually to qualify for more funding.
The plight of the girl child in Northern Nigeria
Well we’re not where we want to be, but we’re definitely not where we used to be. Things have improved significantly to a large extent. I don’t believe girls are being treated as they deserve. A great number of people still see girls as nothing but sex objects. They measure her worth by how “sexy” she is or how well she can cook. That’s a huge disrespect to a person created by the Almighty Himself with amazing potentials. So, honestly we do have a long way to go but like I always say, while we are demanding that society stops objectifying the female specie, we should all empower these girls to be confident enough to demand for their respect, which is what we do at GIST.
If I had the opportunity to share my thoughts about the girl child with the Kano State Government
I’d say you are missing a lot when you don’t empower your girls. There is so much potential buried in those girls that can solve most of the challenges facing the society today, but if their potential is not developed, they cannot even try. I must commend the government though. They are beginning to make efforts in that regard and it is encouraging, but they can do much more because there isn’t much time. We have to save the next generation from being partakers of the effect of marginalization of girls.
Being a Woman of Rubies
I think what makes me a Woman of Rubies is my passion. My deep-seated passion to see women rise, to see women break barriers, overcome limitations and be all they can be. I see it as an honour to be gifted with such drive to contribute to women’s development in my own way, and it’s such a blessing to be able to do it in Northern Nigeria. Reading about the qualities that women of rubies should have, I felt so honoured to see that I have come to embody some of these qualities over the years through my experiences and God’s grace. It’s such a privilege thinking about it. I don’t take it lightly in any way.
Dear Marginalized Woman
My final word for marginalized women is this: it won’t always be like this. A time is coming when you will be everything you dream you’d be. A time is coming when you will get an education with ease, you will have a voice in things that concern you and your children. You will give expression to all the gifts that God has blessed you with without being afraid or ashamed. The time is coming when you won’t be careful to raise your head high and be confident in yourself and in your dreams. That time is close. So, don’t give up yet.
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