Sometime ago, the United Nations declared every October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child. This year’s theme was Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: What Counts for Girls. Though there are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDG5 speaks of Gender Equality while SDG10 talks of Reduced Inequalities. The Nigerian girl-child needs both. The United Nations says: “Only through explicit focus on collecting and analysing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data, and using these data to inform key policy and programme decisions can we adequately measure and understand the opportunities and challenges girls face, and identify and track progress towards solutions to their most pressing problems”.
In Nigeria, credible data are a serious challenge to national planning. More often than not, we rely on data provided by international agencies. Such data themselves might be based on projections and not actual figures, hence not totally reliable for planning purposes.
Truth be told, the Nigerian girl is seriously challenged. How do I mean? The chances of a girl child realising her full potential is slimmer than those of a boy child. This is because there are more out-of-school girls than there are boys. There are also more girls dropping out of school than their male counterparts. This is largely due to such primordial sentiments as the one expressed by President Muhammadu Buhari in Germany last week when he said his wife belonged to “the kitchen, the living room and the other room.”
That, unfortunately, is the belief of many uneducated parents. They see no need to send their female children to school as they are viewed as cooks and baby making factories. The skills for these tasks are not necessarily acquired in the four walls of a formal school but via home training. Because of this erroneous belief, many girls are married off early in life even before they reach the age of puberty.
Cases of forced marriages of teenage girls have been on a steady increase. There are many reported cases of governors, senators, traditional rulers and very important personalities marrying teenage girls who ordinarily should be in school studying; all because they believe their culture and religion endorse it. These child-bride and baby-mother phenomena have health implications as many of them end up contracting Vesico Vagina Fistula better known as VVF due to complications during childbearing.
Even when girls are enrolled in school, they are no longer safe and secure. Many of these girls are now being sexually harassed and molested by their teachers. There have been several reported cases of such in the media. Besides, the creeping phenomenon of abduction of school girls is also rampant. The April 2014 kidnapping of over 200 Chibok school girls was a case in point. Thankfully, 21 of them were released by their abductors last Thursday with some of them pregnant or nursing babies. On February 29, three teenage girls of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary Ikorodu were abducted from their school. They were eventually rescued after few days in captivity. Early this month, kidnappers also went to Igbonla Model College, Epe in Lagos where they abducted four students, a teacher and vice-principal. One of the four students was a girl.
Incidentally, while there are lots of advocacy against violence against women, not much is being done in ensuring that there is no violence against girls. Yes, Child Rights Act was passed and signed into law since 2003; however, only about 16 states have passed similar law in the 13 years existence of that Act. Even at the federal level, how much enforcement has the Child Rights Act witnessed? I asked this question because many of the things that have been criminalised by the Act are still being done with impunity. Children, especially girls are still being trafficked and used as house maids or prostitutes. They are still being used for forced labour such as hawking when they should actually be in school. Sadly too, with the commencement of war on terror in Nigeria, insurgents have started to prime girls as suicide bombers. Sad, very heart-rending!
Another ugly phenomenon that has refused to go away is some men’s undue preference for the male child. This is most prominent in Igboland and to a certain degree, Yorubaland. In these two cultural milieus, premium is placed on male child. This is due to the belief that he is the one who will perpetuate the family name while a girl will grow to marry and adopt her husband’s surname. It bears noting that many marriages have been destroyed over this issue of male-child-at-all-cost syndrome. Some women have been forced to cheat on their husbands all in a bid to bear male children. Some have had to buy male children to save their tottering marriages. What men who make fuss of having only female children do not know or chose to ignore is that, they, and not their wives, determine the sex of their children. While women have XX chromosomes, men have XY chromosomes. It’s when a man releases the Y chromosome to join one of the X of the spouse that the woman is able to have a male child. Unfortunately, men who held on to this anachronistic belief fail to understand that a boy child is not superior to a girl child physiologically or psychologically.
There is practically no profession where both sexes cannot excel. Today, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, is a woman; the Prime Minister of Britain, Theresa May is a lady and the projected next president of the most powerful country in the world, the United States of America, Hillary Clinton, is also a woman. Thus, women are now drivers of world economies by virtue of having these women at the helms of their political affairs.
It is high time we changed our negative attitudes against the girl child. Girls need special care and protection. They need to be empowered with the right formal and informal education. Yes, they have social roles to play when they grow up to marry and procreate. However, such social roles do not preclude them from exercising and enjoying their rights to engage in decent work, aspire to political offices and own property. Enough of discrimination and violence against the girl child! I stand with the girl child!
Follow me on twitter @jideojong