Empowering the girl-child through free, compulsory education
Issues of concerns over the incidences of violation of the rights of children, especially the girl-child, have been on the top burner in recent times. Reasons are not far-fetched. The girl-child has over the years been taunted as weak and susceptible to societal ills ranging from rape, child labour, female genital mutilation, early marriage, trafficking, being used as baby factories and not admitted into formal education among others, the resultant effect being long term trauma for the victims.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), denial of rights to formal education is a violation of the child’s right and leads to ignorance, poverty and disease. It is an established fact that failure to invest in tackling headlong the problem of girl-child education leads to serious social and economic consequences leading to losses estimated at 2-8 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
As noted by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Dr. Ezekiel Oyemomi, girls and women in Nigeria, as in other developing nations of the world, are systematically disadvantaged and face worse development outcomes than their male counterparts. Some of these challenges are reinforced by age-long prejudices and cultural stereotypes against the development of the girl-child.
Findings from the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey released on September 10, 2015, carried out by the National Populations Commission (NPC) with support from UNICEF and the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention revealed a high prevalence of violence against children in Nigeria, especially the girl-child.
These findings posited that girls, more than boys, are prone to various forms of abuse at home, school or places of worship. The population-based study provides the first nationally representative data on the prevalence of sexual, physical and emotional violence among female and male children in Nigeria. The survey found that approximately six out of every 10 Nigerian children under the age of 18 years experience some form of physical, emotional and sexual violence before the age of 18 years. Also, one in two children experience physical violence, one in four girls and one in ten boys experience sexual violence while one in two boys experience emotional violence.
The sad commentary is that experiencing violence in childhood makes it more likely that the child will grow up to become a perpetrator of violence against other children and is likely to become one even in childhood. According to UNICEF, ending violence against children is not just a child protection or child rights issue but also a moral imperative.
Worried by this trend, the Director-General of the National Centre for Women Development, (NCWD), Lady Onyeka Onwenu, recently hosted the second edition of Women and Girls Summit with girl-child education and empowerment, as its focal point. It had as theme, ‘Empowerment and Training: Innovating for Girl-Child Education,’ the three-day summit was hinged on the United Nations Declaration of October 11, 2011, which constitutes the International Day of the Girl-Child.
Onwenu explained that with education and adequate financial empowerment, women and girls could overcome societal prejudices and positively contribute their quota to growing the nation. The day was marked to recognise girl’s rights and the unique challenges they face around the world in conformity with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 66/170 of December 19, 2011.
Students and young persons from 15 secondary schools within and around the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and various women’s associations were represented. Vital issues were raised. The girls raised their voices, speaking boldly on issues affecting them as members of the society. They all called on governments at all levels to seriously implement the relevant laws to end all forms of abuse against children, especially the girl-child.
While delivering a paper titled ‘Streamlining Economic Empowerment Programmes for Women and Girls,’ Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dr. Ezekiel Oyemomi noted, “Adolescent girls of today who later become mothers, workers, mentors, household heads, political leaders and entrepreneurs have the right to safe, educated and healthy life of fulfillment”.
Oyemomi said that as part of actions and programmes to ease the challenges that women and girls face, government through the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social development, has put in place some mechanisms and schemes for the benefit of the target group. These, according to him, include The Women Fund for Economic Empowerment (WOFEE) and the Business Development Fund for Women (BUDFOW). Oyemomi stressed that these are funding windows created to cater for the small and medium scale women entrepreneurs and cooperative societies.
Also included are construction and equipping of over 60 skills acquisition centres for women across the six geo-political zones which are expected to reduce poverty among women as well as enhance their economic status to enable them contribute meaningfully to nation building. He revealed that the Growing Girls and Women (G-WIN), a critical programme aimed at improving the lives of the poorest girls and women in Nigeria is currently being implemented in five Millennium Development Agencies, namely federal ministries of Water Resources, Agriculture and Rural Development, Communication Technology, Health and Works and FERMA.
He said that streamlining economic empowerment for women and girls had become imperative because of on-going conflicts in some parts of the country which has placed tremendous burden on the communities, especially girls and women who suffer various forms of gender-based violence, displacements, loss of families and livelihoods. The Permanent Secretary called on all stakeholders involved in the provision of economic empowerment programmes to tailor such services and activities towards enhancing women and girls in Nigeria.
While addressing the gathering, Lady Onwenu said, “It is expected that the outcome of this summit will draw the attention of policy makers to the critical issues and concerns that have continued to plague women and girls with a view to strategically addressing and including the issues on the strategic implementation plan of the new administration”.
Wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari who expressed confidence that issues concerning the abducted Chibok girls would be resolved soon, expressed the belief that it was possible to change the status of women globally and particularly in Nigeria, saying: “The world as a whole must awaken to the urgent need to end injustice against women”.
A 10-point communiqué was issued at the end of the summit. Titled ‘Hear our Voices,’ it called on policy makers, politicians, opinion leaders and agents of change to urgently address the issues that affect the girl-child by ensuring free, compulsory and retentive education for the girl-child up to secondary school level, establishing special schools for the girl-child with special needs in all states of the federation, promoting vocational skills as add-ons to formal education, promoting entrepreneurship programmes for young girls and boys, providing laboratories and teaching aids to all schools and introducing and sustaining the school feeding programme at the primary school level.
Also, there should be change and review of the school curriculum in line with technological advancement, provide adequate teaching facilities and required training aids, government to enforce the relevant laws on rape by ensuring that culprits are brought to justice, and provide adequate security in all schools.
No doubt, the summit has expressed Nigeria’s young’s modest and achievable requests to President Muhammadu Buhari who they described as ‘a listening leader’. What remains to be seen is how much of these resolution reached would be translated into the implementation and action in the favour of Nigeria’s girl-child so she could play her role effectively just like her male counterpart.