My Life! My Script! My Passion! - Mobilizing Girls Voices
My name is Carolyn Seaman and I am the founder of Girls Voices. I am writing this journal to share my story and the inspiration behind Girls Voices. I was born and raised in Kaduna State in Northern Nigeria, West Africa. My Dad is a University Professor and my Mum is a High School teacher, so I was raised in an academic environment. Spending the first 23 years of my life in the University environment, all the pictures that were familiar to me included the University Staff Quarters, the University Chapel, the University Staff Schools and eventually the University itself where I graduated a Law Degree. However, growing up in the University setting did not exactly inspire me to be an academician, although my family, cultural and religious backgrounds may also have a lot to do with that. I grew up struggling to survive the pressures and expectations surrounding my life: my family expected me to grow up to be a perfect model for my siblings and even other younger extended family relatives, the academic environment expected me to be a bright student to reflect that I had successful academicians as parents. Then, there were also the cultural and religious expectations that I must maintain modesty and exude a high level of morality and spirituality befitting of my cultural and religious heritage. All these pictures soon took a toll on me and I got lost trying to survive the pressures and met up to all the expectations. I ended up loosing 'Me' and my dreams and aspirations. I completely lost the will to know and love 'Me' so I lost the dream to want to be or do anything remarkable in life. Soon, I ended up with the notion that I did not matter, that my voice did not count and that my dreams were not important. I felt invisible and insignificant to many other girls and boys that were pursuing their dreams, whom I thought were promising and had better opportunities than I did. Little did I realize that I had a very low self esteem that I needed to fight in order to dream and pursue and fulfill my dream. This ignorance was strengthened by the lack of inspiration I encountered in the environment I was raised because I never felt like part of a people or process that recognized my capacity or needed to hear my voice.
Towards the end of my University degree, I began to realize that I needed a boost in my self esteem and as I gradually began to work on that (with the help of new friends) I began to dream again. And as I moved down South Law School to study for my Bar examinations, I was exposed to a whole new environment and I began to see life differently; I discovered and was taught by a number of women who were remarkable personalities that exuded a confidence that was totally new and unfamiliar to me. This started me on a quest to explore new possibilities in my life. And when I set out to find a job, I started out with my own expectations and I had a very positive outlook. However, I had a 'next to zero' knowledge and experience using a computer, which was a critical element in the work environment in Nigeria's capital city, Abuja. But, it was my preferred location to settle down to a job and start to pursue my dreams. Although I was sincere about my lack of experience using a computer, I was fortunate to be employed at a private firm that placed me on a three (3) months probation within which I was encouraged to build my computer skills while learning on the job. My appraisal reflected my capacity to learn fast and my employment was formalized based on that potential. I quickly grew from an office administrator to a project officer and my job experience exposed me to working on projects with government agencies, civil society and international organisations. Among the areas I worked on, my work in the field of gender stood out for me and so, I pursued a post-graduate diploma in gender studies. My study and work experience helped me to understand my life challenges growing up in a patriarchal Nigerian society that suppressed my dreams and pressured me with expectations that overwhelmed me. Even greater, I realized that my predicament could as well be the predicament (or even worse) for many other girls in Nigeria. This inspired me to establish Girls Voices.
Girls Voices is a community platform for girls to connect and share their voices on various issues that affect them such as education, health, fashion, entertainment, entrepreneurship and other issues. Girls Voices is intended to primarily run virtually (online via the internet) and secondarily run physically with occasional face-to-face camp meetings and community outreaches. My inspiration behind Girls Voices was to create a platform that will mobilize and motivate girls to share their experiences, their concerns and their needs within safe spaces where they would not feel vulnerable and trust that they can get the inspiration, solution and support they need. Girls Voices seeks to awaken the concept of inspiration, which is gradually fading away in our society. We find that, although some women are breaking barriers and achieving their dreams, their stories don't get to young girls and other women who need to be inspired to believe that they can also break barriers and achieve their dreams. Girls Voices is designing series of projects that will produce digital content that will help to share these inspirational experiences in short and simple messages (short videos, films and documentaries) that will engage and inspire the girls. Also, Girls Voices would coordinate interactive campaigns that will motivate the girls to believe in themselves, boost their self esteem and believe that their voices count. Girls Voices intends to build and run a very vibrant and interactive website that would inform, educate and inspire girls to be great achieving women in society. However, Girls Voices launched her Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/girlsvoices on the International Day of the Girl Child, 2013 and we currently have 96 girls who have liked and follow the Page. Girls Voices also has a Twitter platform https://twitter.com/girlsvoices1 that is still growing her followers. Although we are yet to conduct a collective survey of the challenges the girls may be experiencing accessing the internet, there may be indications that some of the girls barely access the internet in weeks or in months in some cases. One-on-one interactions with some of the girls reflect that they lack possession of any personal tool (computer, smart phone or tablet) to access the internet on their own. Also, they cannot afford to go to the internet cafe as often as they may desire and this is further influenced by the insecurity of the girls going to the internet cafe on their own. Two (2) girls specifically shared that they have to use their Dad's smart phone to access the internet and follow the posts on Girls Voices. While these challenges are common all over the world and encountered by the women too, there is no doubt that effective intervention must evolve to remedy these challenges girls and women face accessing the internet. Indeed, the internet has revolutionized globalization and is at the centre of modern development and advancement and girls and women need to get on board to be visible and relevant.
I appreciate the efforts of various organisations that work with women. However, I am drawn towards working for and with adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 26. The reality is that this group of people face a disconnect, when the initiatives targeted at children eludes them and again the initiatives directed at women rarely touches them directly. I am inspired to reach this group because I see these girls as the women of tomorrow who will require less intervention if they are reached earlier in life. Girls that are empowered at an early age tend to emerge empowered women who would also empower other women and minimize the demand for empowerment intervention among women tomorrow. The girls I reach out to need the basic literacy to be able to use the internet and I may be criticized for working with the educated girls who many believe are already engaging the empowerment that should secure them in life. However, I shared my personal story growing up with no dreams or self esteem despite being raised in an academic environment. And it is a testament to the imbalance in the educational system in Nigeria and the need for other interventions to join to strengthen the knowledge-base of Nigerian girls to boost their capacity to dream and pursue those dreams to impact their environment.
Moral, financial, resource and other support to Girls Voices would be helpful to design initiatives, provide quality tools that would inspire the Girls to dream and make their voices count. We need to embark on the production of our inspirational videos and documentaries and we also need to provide the girls with affordable portable laptops, tablets or smart phones and internet subscriptions that would help them access the internet effectively and connect their voices to various global development efforts such as the Girl Declaration project that is collecting the voices of girls around the world to motivate the United Nations to include girls in the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals engineered by the Girl Effect, the Clinton Global Initiative and many other organisations working on girls issues. It would be very instructive to have girls voices connecting from across Africa and to Asia and to the Americas and other Continents. Girls Voices dreams to connect the voices of girls around the world to speak to and with each other and also speak to the world that needs to hear their voices because Girls Voices Count. I am also excited about the work that Chime for Change is doing with their Chime Hack project supporting creative software programs and applications that would advance girls and women's work around the world. Girls Voices will also work hard to develop an app and we would test it and share it when we find it working for us here in Nigeria. I also appreciate a number of efforts by other World Pulse members in Nigeria working to attract more women to the internet by calling for affordable internet and brainstorming to make the internet safer for women. The outcomes of such initiatives would go a long way to strengthen our work and we cannot take that for granted.
Girls Voices is young but eagerly looking forward to transforming today's girls by inspiring them and motivating them to believe in themselves and the power of their voices to change their environment. We look forward to working with other organizations that are working for and with girls and women believing that we can do more when we work collectively. Empower a girl today and you have an empowered woman empowering others tomorrow. Let's get girls voices to count!