Educate the Girl Child, Develop the Nation.
Education plays a key role in development. Human capital has become a determinant of the level of development of any given nation not just the available natural resources, thus the major emphasis on mass education of any populace. The importance of educating women cannot be overemphasised taking into cognisance the fact that women possess hidden resources that if tapped into and allowed to be fully utilised, has the potential of boosting any Nations Economy. Surprisingly, girl child education is still a battle yet to be won in Nigeria where women are still regarded as second class citizens in most communities. We still experience cases of adolescent marriage, girl child mutilation, maternal mortality and other forms of violence against women. The British Councils “GENDER IN NIGERIA REPORT 2012; IMPROVING THE LIVES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN IN NIGERIA” reveals that 80.2 million women and girls have significantly worse life chances than men and also their sisters in comparable societies. By that survey 70.8% of young women aged 20-29 in the North-West region of Nigeria are unable to read or write. However, there are a lesser percentage of girls out of school in the southern region of the country. One is forced to ask why such a large number lacks access to education irrespective of the various awareness campaigns globally on the importance of girl child education.
Taking a trip down my memory lane I remember the experience of my mother who only got a University degree some years back after she already had all her children and I always wondered why she waited that long. She explained that her father died before her birth and her mother had difficulties raising her and her siblings especially because her Uncle’s made it a duty to marry out her elder sisters at very tender ages. My mother however had a passion for education and after her primary school education she and her ill mother went on a futile quest to speak to some wealthy Uncles to assist in paying her fees. One was so adamant that he insisted that my mother should be married out because training her was a waste of resources considering that she will one day be another “man’s property”. My mother’s eldest sister who was married to a polygamist that neglected his family was determined to provide my mother with a better future than she had and took her in. They worked day and night doing several petty trades including cooking and selling food on the streets. My mother explained that she had neither play time nor holidays as they toiled to save enough to train herself and her nephews in school. Sadly her sister passed away and she was all alone again, this affected her educational pursuit but she enrolled for some other training cheaper than a university degree that enabled her get a job before she got married and finally achieved a university degree she always dreamed of and presently provides assistance to those she can. This is just one story but is quite similar with the stories of woes of many girls and women in Nigeria.
There is this belief that educating a woman makes her equal to the man and powerful beyond imagination. Basically, the fear of domination is apparent and the fact that we are yet to let go of archaic traditional beliefs that sums up the life of a woman to begin and end in the kitchen. Denying the girl child an education is a discrimination against women which ranks equally with rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. I view them all together because they are all various means of subduing the women folk and easily leaving them gagged and fettered. Illiteracy commonly runs pari passu with poverty illustrating the fact that an easy way of suppressing a group of people is to take away education thereby restricting their means of self realisation and thus subjecting them to poverty. The social role played by women in the family and society is practically developed in their childhood and the potential economic benefit is only guaranteed if the girl child is given the opportunity to utilise her full potential.
I am of the view that having policies that promotes these ideas is vital in achieving meaningful goal. This informed my engagement in various policy advocacies ranging from making the socio-economic rights (which includes rights to education) fundamental and justiciable rights under the Nigerian Constitution, the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women CEDAW in Nigeria, a National Gender Policy and even legislation criminalising violence against women.
We must therefore continue to create awareness to raise the consciousness of people and further mobilize a majority to promote the rights of women to education and equity.