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Paint Me Not Red

Me and two girls in the village

I was an inquisitive child. I was always trying to figure out the reasons behind things. One day as I stood looking over my teacher’s shoulder into the class register, I noticed that the names of the male pupils were written first, at the top in blue ink while below, the girls’ names were written in red. I did not so much mind the positioning of the names but why red? Red ink was what the teacher used to record failures in our report cards. Did that also mean all girls were failures? I was disturbed and I asked.
“Mrs A. why do you write the names of girls in red?” She had looked at me strangely for a moment and slowly an angry look had settled on her face – “Go to your seat. You ask too many questions.” She had snapped.

In Nigeria, the elite, rich and learned families do not usually hesitate to send their girls to school since they have the resources to fund their education. However, even within this privileged class, some still hold a kind of restraint over their daughters. For instance, their female child may wish to study engineering but would be dissuaded by her parents. They would say, “try something more feminine.”
With the poor in rural areas, education for the girl-child is a burden. The girls are reared like fattened cows and "sold" - given out in marriage as soon as they reach puberty. In the Northern area of Nigeria, child-marriage is a common phenomenon and not just among the poor. There was a shameful incident of a renowned politician who married a thirteen year old girl.

During the one-year National Youth Service observed by all higher institution graduates, I witnessed first-hand, the limitation of the girl-child in regard to her access to education. I was deployed to a village, to teach in their secondary school. The school was under-funded and the students lacked important study materials. They had few teachers and most of the students could barely read. Therefore, it was only natural that I reacted to their general lack at first without any special consideration for gender bias. But after spending some months in the school, I noticed that there were very few female students in my classes. I discussed this with some other corpers* and we decided to do something about it.

We went to one of the native teachers who took us to the village head. The aged man seemed amused as he looked at all five of us; three ladies and two men. Then he said something in their native language which the teacher translated to us – “Are these beautiful ladies married?” When the reply was given in the negative, the man shook his head and looked at us pitifully, “What a shame, they are already too old.”
We told the village head that education was important for the girl-child and assured him that what we taught them in school was of benefit. After much deliberation, the village head agreed to talk to the families in the community. In the following weeks, we had more female students in our classes. However, this was only a pyrrhic victory – none of the female students were allowed to further their education past the secondary school level.
Before I left the village, one of the girls shared her dream of becoming a nurse in the future. She had plans to leave for the city to avoid being married off. She had been saving money from the kunu drink she sold on market days. The fire in her eyes stirred something deep inside me. In that young girl, Mariamu, I could see the start of the end – an end to female exclusion from the right to education.

In third world countries, economic constraints will continue to hinder girls from gaining access to education. Girls like Mariamu have the will but lack the means. There is the need to create more non-governmental bodies that cater for the needs of the girl-child especially in countries where the government has failed to provide for the people. As individuals we can make our contribution towards this bid – I did not have much money to help those girls in Tumu village but I taught them wholeheartedly. Their earnest desire to learn and their smiles of gratitude were rewards enough. Also, the mass media especially the Television can be used to confront cultural barriers which inhibit the girl-child's access to education. One of such examples is a soap opera which used to run on television in Nigeria titled, I Need to Know – it enlightened girls on the value of education, sex education and self worth.

Girls must transform the World!

*Corpers – the term used for graduates serving under the National Youth Service Corps

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »



Sophie's picture

Doing the best

I am touched by your story! I am deeply touched by your passion to make a difference in the lives of the young girls and much as it may same little, you did your best. That girl Mariamu might still remember you, she may not have achieved her dreams but she was put in position where she could have such a dream by accessing the basic education in the first place. Sometimes we can only do so little but the little we do is the best.

I had a similar experience while at university where some men who used to sell milk in the hostels asked if we are married and wondered why such 'old women' were not yet married. In his community the girls got married at tender age and rarely accessed secondary education.
Continue being a champion!

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe

Petunia007's picture

Thanks so much for your

Thanks so much for your heartwarming comments.

kirthijay's picture

Girls must, and Girls will,

Girls must, and Girls will, dear Petunia! You are a fantastic writer and you really move me with your writing!

Petunia007's picture

*blood rushing to my cheeks*

*blood rushing to my cheeks* I'm happy you found my writing engaging. Thanks for reading.

kirthijay's picture

<3 <3 <3

<3 <3 <3

bhavna's picture


Paint me not red... hmm wonderful account of your intricately transforming journey.
Best wishes


Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading.

Deqa's picture

Great job

Beautiful and well written piece. I admire your work with the village kids. One of my best friends and university mate is from Nigeria and I remember her doing the National service teaching computer and math at secondary school.
We had this program 20+ years ago but after the collapse of the government it also became history. I love community work and giving back.
Keep up the good work.

Petunia007's picture

Thanks. I'm glad you found it

Thanks. I'm glad you found it an interesting read. There's so much to do but the means are few and far between.

Aminah's picture

Great job

That part about the village elders asking whether you were married - those kinds of things annoy me to no limit.
I mean why do people have to judge others by whether single or attached? Is that all a women is to a man?

I often wonder that. Even if educated, do men have that sexual bit on their mind always?

Anyways, great post. You have addressed the assignment quite neatly.



Petunia007's picture

It's a sad reality that a

It's a sad reality that a woman is always judged according to those kinds of stereotypes. Thanks for reading.


keep it up

we have to correct the ideology of not educating girls

Petunia007's picture

Yes, we do! Thanks for

Yes, we do! Thanks for reading.

jacollura's picture

Thank you for writing

Petunia, thank you for writing. Individual actions create global change. We all play a part.
Girls WILL transform the world.
In peace,

Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading. Yes, I

Thanks for reading. Yes, I believe.

Nadz's picture


Thanks for writing your story, I am honoured to have read what was written with conviction and empathy.

Life is just for living

Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading.

Sharontina's picture

Girls are

Girls are transforming the world dear Petunia. Fantastic writing.

Merlin Sharontina

Petunia007's picture

Thanks Sharontina.

Thanks Sharontina.

Greengirl's picture

Interesting and Well Written!

Hello Petunia, you and your colleagues, no doubt, gave your best to the girls in Tumu village and I am sure they will never forget you, Mariamu especially.

I enjoyed reading the post!


Petunia007's picture

Thanks. The experience stayed

Thanks. The experience stayed with me too.

otahelp's picture

so touching

You did a wonderful job within your means. I hope that we in Nigeria will rally round to work on the girl child education which we have seen to a global phenomenon. Lets work together to let the light shine.


Our Lady of Perpetual Help Initiative
Lets keep the light shining

Petunia007's picture

The inequality in our society

The inequality in our society is so sad. Thanks for reading.

EVIA Woman's picture

Thank you Petunia007

Thanks so much for this. Its good but also hurtful to read your post. Mostly because more and more,the gap between the 'elite' and the 'others' is getting wider.

Do you currently support or are you currently part of any campaign in Nigeria, addressing this?

Hope to hear back.

VB William-Eguegu

Petunia007's picture

Since you're also from

Since you're also from Nigeria, I guess you know about the 'committee syndrome" rampant in our society. The government sets up poverty alleviation schemes that never reaches the poor and some NGOs use grants received for individual purposes. Therefore, I try to do my best in my little corner within my small means. Who knows, maybe from my participation in VOF I would be able to liaise with like-minded people.

EVIA Woman's picture

Too right on that, the

Too right on that, the journey of a thousand miles began with one step... If you can change one persons opinion to be less sexist, that's change. One mind at a time... Thank you so much for writing and I look forward to communicating some more.

VB William-Eguegu

Sutanuka Banerjee's picture


loved your every word..... yes girls MUST transform themselves and the one else can do it..........

I live in my convoluted mind....

Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading.

Precious M's picture

Even among the rich

Even people with the resources to educate the girl child still think some fields of study are too masculine. If only they now how strong we are. We are strong, very strong!

Great post dear.

My pen speaks

Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading. Women

Thanks for reading. Women also have a role to play - it's strange that some women won't enter a truck or bus driven by a fellow woman because they doubt her abilities since it should be a 'man's' job.

Flavia Nyadoi's picture

You are so courageous that I

You are so courageous that I like the actions you have taken, some thing that very one needs to look up to. as a child being so inquisitive assures me how genius you right from child hood. But I am impresses you are passing it to others. How ever, economic constrain will not continue to hinder girls from accessing education if we take action to economically empower women in third world countries. Every girl should be educated.


Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading. Yes,

Thanks for reading. Yes, education will empower girls in third world countries but issues like poverty can still hold them back. We have situations where educated women cannot even secure employment or get the funds to start a private business.

Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading. Yes,

Thanks for reading. Yes, education will empower girls in third world countries but issues like poverty can still hold them back. We have situations where educated women cannot even secure employment or get the funds to start a private business.

Jan K Askin's picture

YOur Example

Dear Petunia,

Your article highlights the potential for individual/small group action to transform attitudes and promote progressive change. Do not underestimate your influence in Tumu village. Even though the village elder held restrictive views of women as only suitable for marriage, you and your croppers colleagues planted a seed.

While non-governmental agencies can provide needed funding for girls like Miriamu, problems of corruption persist, as in your example of some NGO's making personal use of donations.

Of greatest effect may be the efforts of individuals like you who work one-on-one to raise awareness of educational needs and continuously work within their countries to better female lives.

Keep raising your voice and you will find our support from around the world.

Your sister in the US,


Jan Askin

innerdelight's picture

Leading the way

Hi Petunia, you are such a gifted author! Thank you for sharing this story with us. This is raising awareness and at the same time showing what's possible...
Did you ever find out why the girls names were in red? Gosh...
Keep on letting your voice be heard and read.

joyful blessings,

Petunia007's picture

Thanks for the compliment. I

Thanks for the compliment. I guess my teacher at that time didn't know the answer herself. That's why she snapped at me. The names were written in the class register to mark attendance but I don't know why the separation of genders was necessary. I just drew a kind of symbolism from the 'red' ink to show how often girls are discriminated against in our society. What happened to black ink or even using the same blue ink for both genders. It's considered 'natural' that the names of the boys should come first.

innerdelight's picture

Red tent

Hi Petunia,
you're welcome. I just love how you questioned her and how that curiosity wasn't squashed! There is this book called 'The Red Tent' and I believe there is even a community around this now. All about women coming together and honoring the sacredness etc. Interesting that red shows up there as well;)
joyful blessings,

estelle's picture

I want to prode urefforts for

I want to prode urefforts for helping girls in ur community. keep up becoz a lot of women really lack the means

Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading and the

Thanks for reading and the encouragement.

hemrajan's picture

well written piece

Hello Petunia

Great essay, lots of areas and points you made struck a chord with me! I loved your title "paint me not red", in which (I guess) you are referring to the names of the female students written in red. That really bothered me a lot - why are girls judged that way?
One of your sentences really brought back memories - "their female child may wish to study engineering but would be dissuaded by her parents. They would say, “try something more feminine.”" The same thing happened to me! But I am glad it did, it made me all the more determined to pursue engineering!

Keep writing!

Carpe Diem

Petunia007's picture

Thanks for reading. I'm glad

Thanks for reading. I'm glad you didn't allow stereotypes to limit your ambition.

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