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Girl child education, democratic governance and sustainable development in Africa: A call for action


President Goodluck Jonathan  //Image: Wikipedia

President Goodluck Jonathan //Image: Wikipedia

A paper presented as a keynote speaker at the occasion of the kick-off of the “Pan-African Girl Child Education Campaign” organized by the Boss Friendship Club in Nigeria in conjunction with the World Dynasty Pageant, held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, Nigeria.

THE enabling social, economic and political institutions must be active. Legal instruments and social institutions help in improving the status of women but the right socio-economic balance also has to exist between the sexes before equal political participation can be achieved. Japan is an example of an industrialized nations. Yet, “it was only during the 1970s that it became illegal to fire a woman from her job when she married or had children. Though illegal, it is still common practice today.”107 Still in Japan, it is just recent that women exercised the same legal status as men on issues of divorce, and custody of children. Economically, women are marginalized as many indicators show, “…women’s status, such as income inequality with men, legal rights, and educational and occupational attainment, Japan is lowest among the advanced industrial nations.

Some nations in the African continent uphold the freedom of women higher than others. These may be those with the right cultural backgrounds and committed political will. Religion also plays a role. In the Arab world there are the ‘honor killings’ which are more or less forced suicide. The Thai nation is allegedly known for permitting girls into prostitution and the legal system warrants this. There are contrary views of the Asian woman’s situation, nevertheless. As humbled as the Japanese woman is, she has a stake in the financial planning of the family. For example:
In Japan, women in each household generally make all financial decisions independently, from what household goods to buy to when to save and where to invest. Men turn over their pay checks to wives and are given a weekly allowance.

Also as one of those contradictions, in Thailand, we are informed that in most professions, in universities, and in the corporate business, the career achievement of women of the Thai nation is higher than those in most Western developed nations, the United States included.
The United Nations Human Development Report of 1993 presents statistics to the effect that Sweden has the lowest gender gap, while the highest score is obtainable from South Korea where the gender gap reflected in the standard of living, level of income, and education are all remarkably higher in South Korea.
IV Nigeria’s Legal Framework and
Government Policies Affecting Women
(a) The 1999 Constitution
As one of the modern constitutions written not so long ago, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which has undergone several amendments in recent times, conveys the internationally acceptable standards of human rights. The girl child in Nigeria has every legal instrument necessary for her protection under the Nigerian Constitution. There are however some incongruities and terminological incompatibilities that could hinder the full protection of the rights of the girl child, including women’s rights. Human rights are provided under what the Constitution titles as “Fundamental Rights” and these rights are outlined in the Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution as:
Right to Life
Right to dignity of person
Right to personal liberty
Right to fair hearing
Right to private and family life
Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Right to freedom of expression and the press
Right to freedom of assembly and association
Right of freedom of movement
Right to freedom from discrimination
Rights are closely related and upsetting one can lead to the violation of another. In terms of participating in democracy and politics, after the right to life, there is the need for the right to freedom of assembly and association. Section 40 provides that:
Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests…

The Nigerian women are also considered under this category. The same Constitution also further guarantees freedom against discrimination on the grounds of one’s sex in Section 42, and to also further encourages in Section 15 (2) that:
National integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.

In spite of the above quoted parts of the Constitution, which readily give Nigerian citizens protection from indignities, there are sections of the Constitution which do not, perhaps by virtue of nomenclature, measure up to what is universally acceptable or considered standard. In some cases, some provisions of the Constitution make it counterproductive for good governance to occur, and good governance under democracy, is also a right of the citizens. For example, Section 6 (6)c and Section 308 make these rights limited in their effects. A sitting Governor or President may fail to provide the necessary good governance, may be corrupt and, therefore, deprive the citizens of various human rights. Yet, such a Governor or President cannot be held accountable as he or she is protected by what is popularly referred to as the immunity clause. This is also the opinion of N. Udombaba:
A combination of the provisions of section 6(6)(c), which makes the violation of the provisions of Chapter II of the State Policy non-justiciable, and section 308 of the Constitution, which confers immunity from prosecution on the executive during their tenure of office, have striped section 34 of the force of implementation ordinarily attached to a constitutional provision.
With such anomaly found in the Constitution, corruption and impunity appear to have become the order of the day such that the government can no longer fully deliver on its responsibilities to the citizen. Security, good governance, social amenities, and as has become the trend, salaries are no longer paid in time and the people responsible cannot be held accountable for such violations. Poverty has also reached a serious state and women make up a huge fraction of the poor population. The culprits are heavily protected in the following terms:
(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section:
(a) No civil or criminal proceeding shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office.
(b) No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued…
(3) This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor, and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.
The girl child, women, as well as most men cannot be said to have an enabling environment for self-development. It is no wonder that Nigeria finds herself at the 142nd position on the Human Development Index (HDI) with 169 other rated countries.

Nomenclatural problems in the Constitution are still lingering. For example, Section 29 (4)(b) defines a woman of “full age” as “any woman who is married.” This makes it difficult to criminalize child marriage, as such underage girls married have been defined by the Constitution, by virtue of the fact that they are married, to be of full age. Conversely, single women, regardless of their ages, are not seen as women of “full age”!

Constitutional Reforms would be very much helping the cause of women if the Federal Character principle in the Constitution is reviewed such that there is an added section on affirmative action such that gender representation is emphasized or guaranteed. Section 14(3) advices the formation of government is such a manner that it reflects the “federal character” of Nigeria, meaning that all government agencies should avoid “…predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups…” The issue of gender may not be adequately carried by the term “other sectional groups”. If women make up about half the population of the country, it is only appropriate that they be represented at the same ratio or close to it. Affirmative action could be used to promote this, if inserted in the Constitution.

(b) Government Policies on Gender Equality
From the Obasanjo-led government to the Jonathan Administration, various policies have been put in place to get women represented politically, to uplift them educationally and socially. Various quotas have been given to women in Ministerial appointments. Some of the institutions established to aid good governance include the Human Rights Violation and Investigation Commission, whose duty was to, among other tasks, bring about reconciliation, enhance democratic values and social justices. Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development was created in 1995 and later became Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Youth Development under the Obasanjo Administration and it has implemented various Government policies on women and children. The National Council for Women Societies (NCWS), National Action Plan, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), National Commission for Women (NCW), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and Universal Basic Education all have various functions they play in enabling good governance and women’s rights.
The National Policy on Women
adopted by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in July 2000 is a policy aimed at improving the status of women in various sectors of national life and at the same time supported an affirmative action that stipulated 30 percent of women in the Executive. Some of the affirmative action status of the National Policy on Women are yet to be implemented. However, women now make up 35% of the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria. This is a significant improvement over the past situation.

There is no shortage of such policies that have some great bearing on women promulgated by every government. The Policy on Nutrition and Household Food Security; National Adolescent Health Policy; National Poverty Eradication Programme; Food and Nutrition Policy; Population Policy; Women Education Policy; Reproductive Health Policy; National Policy on Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation (1998); Transport Policy; Water Policy; Policy for Development, Unity, Progress and Self-reliance.142 The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs had to admit that a lot has now been done under the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for women. What remains to be seriously tackled is the issue of girl child education.

Why Women Do Not Participation in Democratic Politics
(a) Electoral Malpractice and Violence
Electoral malpractice is associated with commercialization of politics, use of violence, and intimidation, and bribery. These have become the reasons why woman feel that politics, even in a democratic setting, is a male career. As the European Union Election Observer Mission noted in their report on the general elections of 2007 in Nigeria:
The highly commercialised nature of politics, the male dominated party apparatus, including in the party screening committee for candidates, and political violence remain the most serious deterrents to women’s participation in public life. Female candidates face particular financial and social constraints in campaigning and are not able to compete with men on an equal footing.143
Sit tight politicians who are not accountable to their constituencies and know that they are likely to be voted out, use rigging and violence to maintain themselves in office. This proves to be deterrence to good governance and democratic principles. It is unfortunate that elections in Nigeria have always been marred by rigging. This has also posed a problem for the African continent. Terrible cases that have led to lose of lives can be found in the annals of nations such as Kenya, Sierra-Leone, Egypt, etc. In Nigeria, in the elections of 1964, 1965, 1979, 1983, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011.And there is no end in sight.
Even the overt attempts to invite women into the parties are very much fraudulent and carried out is that manner. Women are told that contest forms are free, but this turns out to be a joke on them as they are schemed out of contesting and what they are needed for is just their support. As one perceptive observer noted:
During the primaries, a particular political party distributed application forms free of charge to women and made it known to the public. This strategy is meant to empower women in order to reduce gender inequality in politics. This strategy was later turned out as a mere gesture to please the development partners because the party went behind the scene to screen out all the women who had applied.145

Replacing duly nominated candidates at the party level is a fraud that has been going on and calls for a reform that would prevent parties from doing this have been on but no changes have been made. The Electoral Act 2006, Section 34 (1) makes it legal to substitute nominated candidates 60 days before election. Most of the victims of this provision of the law have been women.
Violence and fraud have been major features of most elections since political independence. Women especially are victimized and constrained because of their subordination and weaker status in society.147
Women and the aged stay away from those spots of polling units that have become spots of violence and possible death. Youths who could have participated meaningfully become instruments of destruction.

(b) Social Discrimination
Politics is seen as a male venture and women found in it as simply tagged ‘cultural deviants’. The discrimination is often accentuated by male opponents just to phase women out of relevance. 148
Amid all this gender bias, there is also the problem of indigenship after a woman is married. Should she contest under her husband’s constituency or father’s? These are issues that the Constitution is yet to fully address. Where would she claim indigeneship when her father’s constituency considers her as married out so she belongs in her husband’s constituency, but at the same time the husbands people consider her as an alien?
(c) Lack of Participatory Spirit in Women
Discouragement and lack of hope has put an end to the will of women to rise up politically. They have become demoralized. Indeed a woman needs a strong backing to have the courage to come up to the point of publicly declaring her intentions. She has to have financial backing, a political godfather, proper security system around her, etc. The situation is so bad that the women electorate do not even come out to support their own. There is a general lack of political interest of activism among them. Women have always had the voting capability and demographic strength, and population, as the 1990, 1991 and 1999 census recorded, to make changes by vote, especially during the 2003 and 2015 elections when they made up 60% of registered voters.149
It turns out that these registered voters do not all vote. Registration was done merely to possess the voters’ card. The lack of encouragement by the spouse to the intending female politician can also be a problem to reckon with. Some husbands do not want their wives in politics.150

The critical question today, however, is not simply a lamentation of what has happened to the girl child education in our nations and societies in Africa. There is need for a call to action. This involves a clear articulation of suggestions that will form the basis for the action plans and strategies to be adopted. It is only this that would create equal access, participation, opportunity and rights for the girl child in the educational and other sectors of the society. To help accomplish these tasks, I itemize briefly some courses of actions that need to be taken immediately by proxy advocates, rights and gender groups, educational policy makers, politicians, governments and all international groups and donor agencies operating on the African continent. These would include:-
Mass campaigns to address the stark ignorance that even now relates to the problem of gir-child education. These could be done by different media outlets, and on the floors of our national legislatures and Board rooms;

More Conferences, Workshops and Symposia of the kind we have just done, need to be organised on a regular basis. These are needed to keep the issue of girl child education constantly on the front burner and to come out with strategies for addressing it;

Intensive research need to be sponsored in the various countries and comparatively on the continent of Africa to come out with workable frameworks and policy options to address this problem;
Rural programmes for enlightening the parents on the advantages of treating the girl child and the boy child the same when it comes to making educational and other household or family decisions. Information is lacking on these matters, especially in rural Africa;
The level of poverty and massive unemployment in Africa is further compounding the girl child education problems. When social, economic and other adverse conditions confront the family, the chances are that the girl child becomes the ultimate looser. While this is not right, governments in Africa must address the adverse social conditions in their nations and societies;

State autonomy needs to be re-established in Africa. For most African nations, governments have surrendered policy-making decisions, implementation and control to the dominant groups and classes, local or international. The policies are therefore, no longer serving the welfare interests of the local population effectively. Instead, capital accumulation has become the main determinant of even state policies. This need not be so once state autonomy is reestablished in Africa;

One way to tackle the girl child education is through legislation. Laws must be made that fully protect the children in our nations – male and female. The existing legislations must also be strictly enforced;
There is need to make education free and compulsory in African nations at least up to Secondary levels. This will ensure that all children are in School.

Government must set up effective structures for monitoring and evaluations of all government policies when made. When this is not effectively done, the good intensions of public policies may never be realized as desired.

There is need to involve the citizens and citizen groups in policy agenda formulation, making, implementation and monitoring and evaluation. Citizens and citizen groups must be trusted and taken into confidence on these matters to promote ownership, cooperation and even the legitimacy of those policies and governments in Africa;

Policies must be designed to accommodate the different social cleavages in the nations of Africa. Policies, such as Federal Character, help to accomplish this. We also need Affirmative Action policies for our women folks and other subordinate groups to catch up with the rest. Africa cannot continue to waste resources and lives on internal conflicts and wars generated by the inability of leaders to manage the different social cleavages in their nations. The questions of “who gets what, when and how”, must be carefully addressed in African nations to prevent crises and wars;

Foreign companies, corporations and donor agencies operating in Africa must be made to put the domestic African interest first. The wide leverage they now have that gives them the chance to control African States, leaders and capture their policies and programmes must not just be resisted by all, but minimized to the barest minimum.
This Paper has tried to examine critically girl child education, democratic governance, and sustainable development in Africa. The Paper pointed out that in the last few decades, it is no longer news that gender and women groups of all kinds have emerged across the world calling and demanding for equal rights and participation in all facets of political, social, educational and cultural life of their nations and societies. They are seeking equality of access, opportunity, participation and rights of all kinds for women and men.

Despite this, however, the girl child education problem has persisted. The Paper discussed the factors that have been responsible for this situation. It also made suggestions regarding the way forward. We believe that if accepted and implemented, the problem of girl child education in Africa would have been properly addressed and overcome.
•Dr. Mou is a member, Presidential Jobs Board, State House,
The Presidency, Abuja, Nigeria

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