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Day of the girl child… Students make case for gender equality

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As a result of massive youth advocacy around the world, the United Nations in 2011 declared October 11 every year as the International Day of the Girl Child. The idea is to use the platform and galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.

In commemoration of this year’s edition in Nigeria, the Girl Child Art Foundation (GCAF), a non- profit organisation that provides life skill program opportunities to over 17,000 Nigerian girls, held a three-day session for students of the Vivian Fowler Memorial College, Lagos, with the hope of providing them with opportunities to discover their potential, dream and achieve a fulfilling future. 

The event opened on Monday with a workshop where the girls talked about issues around their development and the impact they can make in the world. It also featured mentoring sessions for the young girls, as they were tutored on how to be courageous in the face of challenges, especially from the opposite sex.

On the Second Day, the girls gathered once again and put together all their thoughts, which they eventually painted into an art work on their school wall so that the message can live beyond the programme.

“This is part of our art projects; basically all the things that we do, we try to infuse art into it no matter the course we are pursuing in the organization. As part of the International day of the Girl, we planned a three-day event so that we can give space to produce the work. Whoever that comes around here can look at this work and see that there are issues to talk about concerning the girl child. The girls themselves, whenever they look at this work, it will give them inspiration to do more,” Ada Onyejike-Ananaba, the founder of the foundation said.

Speaking to The Guardian after the programme, Lovely Odebala, one of the participants said, “It’s been very lovely; I learnt a lot of things. I’ve been enlightened on how to strike the word ‘can’t’ out of my vocabulary by always using ‘can.’ I’ve learnt how to distinguish between when feminists say we shouldn’t learn how to cook and do domestic chores; I’ve learnt how to be myself. I’ve learnt that other people are going through the same challenges we are facing here in Nigeria, but most importantly, I’ve learnt to donate to the wellbeing of the girl child,” she said.

For Ibukun Ibironke the programme has taught her what it really means to be a girl child.“It made me realise that it means much more than just being a girl; it means much more than just being in all female school. Girls are much more different which means we have much more chances to impact the world in many ways.”

On the challenges being faced by girl child in Nigeria, Ibironke noted, “my mum says that when somebody tells you, ‘you can’t,’ you have to realise that you can. So, when somebody tells you that you can’t, you have to use the anger that you get from it and turn it into a positive feeling that would make you work hard enough to get to that point they would say, ‘you can.’ And that’s what the opposite sex does to us, which is why we must have enough positive in us to change our anger into positivity,” she said.

For Chika Okoro, one of the participants, “Programmes like this will enable young women to have the confidence to do things that the opposite sex say they can’t do; they should be courageous to speak up. In our society, women and not taken serious like the men,” she said.

Lamenting on the rate of early marriage in the country, especially in the north, Okoro said, “I don’t think it’s meant to be so; as a girl, you need education. If you educate a girl, you educate a nation. If I have the opportunity, I will make sure a girl becomes the president of Nigeria; women are not always given the opportunity and that’s why we are where we are today,” she said.

Though she believes in feminism, Okoro is of the opinion that being a feminist has nothing to do with handling domestic chores. “You can cook for your family and at the same time achieve whatever you want to achieve in life. Some feminists think that they can do what men can do, so, they stop doing domestic duties. It’s like having two straight parallel lines; men are doing their things, women are doing their things. Being part of this event, I’ve learnt to be courageous and to speak up against anything negative. I’m not intimidated because girls are better managers than men; we are more organised,” she enthused.

On the importance of the Day of the Girl Child, Rashidat Folarin said, “It makes me feel extremely proud of myself; being a girl is extremely hard because you always have to explain yourself. It makes me feel that we are recognised as human beings too, not just as mothers, housewives or caretakers of babies. It makes me feel that we actually have an impact in the society.”

To the organisers of the workshop, she said, “I want to thank them for a job well done; I didn’t expect to see an organisation that is trying to help the girl child. Being a certain type of gender, we as girls need a certain kind of care. You hear cases about physical and sexual abuse everyday; it’s a norm thing in Nigeria. Some of these girls have gone through a lot of things that make them so hard and they are angry at the world. So, it’s good to see that we have organisations that are reaching out to girls and helping them actualise their dreams,” she said.

For Yewande Alatise, the International Day for the Girl Child has given girls the opportunity to showcase their real power.“This is our opportunity to prove that we can really standout. The true saying is that behind every successful man, there’s a woman. But today, we are saying that we can actually be who we are; we don’t necessarily have to come behind somebody else. This is a day for us to show that we are girls, we have power and we are immune to any kind of abuse or shame, that nobody can bring us down,” she said.

Alatise, who lamented the ill treatments meted on the girl child, especially in Africa, said, “I think the society takes us to be materials; they don’t allow us to express ourselves. Most families don’t want to send their girl children to school; they prefer to send the boys because they feel they are the ones to carry the family name. They don’t allow the girl child to actually find herself; that’s why you don’t see women on top in Nigeria.”

To the government, she said, “they should create more awareness on the power of the girl child; they should allow us to express ourselves and try new things. Every woman is made with a brain and we can actually think if they allow us to use our full potentials.”

But to Ezekwe Nkiru, being a girl child is like being special and unique.“There are a lot of things we the girls know how to do, but the society is just like enclosing us, making us feel like we are limited. Sometimes, the society thinks that the men are more superior, but we are still all equal. For me, being a girl child is about being powerful and special.”

On the impact of the prgramme, she said, “I feel special because there were a lot of people they could have selected instead of me. So, I feel like there’s something that is me that really need to be part of the programme. Being part of this project has taught me that being a girl child is joyful; I’ve learnt that the world shouldn’t enclose us and make us feel that we are nothing,” she said.

While commending the foundation for findi8ng time to create a programme that helps in spreading information about the girl child and her importance to the society, Timileyin Olukayode urged government to pay more attention to challenges facing the girls.

“I want the government to listen to the girls; I feel like they don’t listen to us. They make us look unimportant and they should put the girls in school, feed them and give them shelter,” she said.

A graduate of Fine and Applied Arts from the Institute of Management and Technology Enugu (IMT), Enugu, Adaobi, the founder and Executive Director of Girl Child Art Foundation, holds an MSc in Management of Development with specialisation in HIV and AIDS from Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Science Wageningen, Netherlands. She has over 10years experience working directly with communities focusing on education and empowerment for the girl child and youths.



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