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She thrives Africa teaches girls self defense at all life stages

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Cross-section of teenage girls from different schools in Lagos, with Mandela Washington Fellows at STA maiden edition.


Describes The Girl Child As Endangered Species

Despite the global advocacy for gender equality, the girl child in most societies is still perceived as unequal to the opposite gender, making her an endangered species at every stage of her life. Whether it is as a toddler, where some culture and traditional beliefs do not wholeheartedly appreciate the birth of a baby girl, or within the family, where parents and siblings constantly remind her of her role, responsibilities and limitations as a female whilst segregating rights between the sons and daughters, or at schools where the boys are expected to perform better at STEM courses while excusing the girls with the notion that she does not have the intellectual capacity to fit in, or at higher institutions where she’s targeted as a sex prey amongst male students and lecturers, or in her marriage where her husband does not see the need to respect her opinion on issues, among others, the girl child is constantly endangered by societal, cultural, traditional, religious and other factors that consciously or unconsciously erect hierarchy between both genders.

Apparently, the society has given the male, the birthright and permission to thrive but refused the woman same permission, and based on these peculiarities and the need to curb the excesses of gender bias through empowering the girl child, Vice President, Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association of Nigeria, Dr. Anita Benson recently organised a one-day seminar titled: She Thrives Africa (STA), for secondary school teenage girls in commemoration of the International Girl Child Day at LA Roche Foundation Hall, Gbagada Lagos.

Dr. Benson said: “STA is my brainchild, I thought about how I could help the girl child. There are a lot of statistics, one in 20 girls experience forced sexual violence, a lot of girls need empowerment, they are not in school, and they don’t know whom to turn to when they’ve been abused. So we decided to not only create awareness for them to know there’s help out there when they are endangered and how to reach out for help, but also safe spaces, so they know they are not alone.

“Sometimes the road to abuse can be very lonely, women feel like they are alone, nobody understands them or knows what they are going through as the society tends to shame women that have been abused. So my team and I brought together young girls from different high schools to talk to them about gender based violence, female empowerment, have them listen to speakers who have struggled through their personal challenges to be great, let them know that they are unstoppable and their lives are unscripted.”

“In Africa, especially Nigeria, we believe a woman should follow a certain type of script, if you want to be a good girl or “wife material” you must act in a certain way, you must behave, think, talk in a certain way, but the world has gone past that, and we want women to know they are as good as men. A woman can be anything she wants to be. She can be a Scientist, Engineer, anything. But most importantly we want them to know that they are protected, that if a man is abusing you, it’s not his right and we can get you help, legal help, psychological help and bring the man or whoever it is, be it a woman, family member, anyone to justice, because the world is changing and anyone can obviously be abusive” she said.

She added that STA is about the concept of abuse and empowerment for the girl child. We want the girl child to know she is unstoppable and we want to protect her from abuse by empowering her with the bravery of self-defense.

Addressing the issue of cultural and traditional restriction of the girl child to thrive as the male naturally would, Dr. Benson said: “We’ve had stories of women in the most restrictive cultures who did amazing things. God builds the human mind in such a way that there is nothing you put your mind to do that you can’t do and because women are also created the same way the man was created, there is absolutely nothing she cannot do if she put her mind to it. There’s always a way you can adapt to your society, surroundings and the people around you. And it starts with who you depend on, what is your network; find that other woman who can be family. The ideology here is to be your sister’s keeper, if you have a vision, find someone who aligns with your vision even if it’s a man, anyone, cause it’s easier when the vision is shared. So long as a woman believe she is unstoppable, not even culture or tradition can put her down.

The event was graced by parents and teachers alongside seasoned gender advocates who had a cross panel session where all of the issues concerning sexual assault were discussed.The teenagers were taught diverse practical self-defense techniques against assault and preventive measures. The influencer emphasised to the girls that self-defense is all about survival and they should be smart enough to be defensive. 

Coordinator STA, Osasu Paul-Azino said: “STA is about creating safe spaces for the girl child by dealing with issues of empowerment, sexual assault, others. This maiden edition is basically about sexual assaults and how to deal with it successfully. We insist that the girl child should never allow assault define or stop her, but more importantly help her prevent it. The basic of STA is intervention, teaching the girls self defense in case of assault. The usual thing about sexual assault is the surprise, which is why we taught them the ABC of self-defense in an unexpected situation. However, we encourage that the girls speak up when faced with any form of assault as we’re here to help them.”

14-year-old, SS2 student, Zino Nancy from Vicmob High School, Shasha Akowonjo said: “Girls should not be seen as a second class citizens. STA has taught me never to allow the discouragements of people get to me. We should have self-esteem, learn to do impossible things and be great at it. But the most exciting session of STA was the practical self-defense session by one of the influencers. I learnt a lot of tactics and ways to defend myself if faced with difficult situations especially sexual assaults. We were taught the importance of assertiveness and never to allow limitations to hinder our success. Also we were taught refusal skills, communication skills, defensive skills and others,” she enthused.


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