By Blessing Agbeetan
Barack Obama once said: ‘if you want to change the world, invest in a girl. The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats a woman. If it is educating girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they are going to fall behind’.
Without a doubt, it is, therefore, safe to say girls are an integral part of life. Just imagine a world without the girl child, it means there won’t be mothers, sisters, wives, aunties or even daughters and that would have made life monotonous.
Despite the important roles played by the girls in the society of today, they tend to face a lot of challenges and segregation due to their gender. In most cases, girls suffer abuse, child marriage, early childbirth, limited educational opportunities, gender-based violence, gender discrimination, female genital mutilation as well as unequal access to opportunities that are being enjoyed by the boys. Usually, these challenges prevent them from realizing their full potentials. This, therefore, calls for the need to constantly raise awareness about the obstacles faced by girls all over the world and the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls.
In view of this, the International Day of the Girl Child is being celebrated annually across the globe on the 11th of October. The annual celebration focuses attention on the need to address the unique challenges faced by girls as well as promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. Today, as Nigeria joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child, there is a need to reflect on the pains and struggles of the girl child, in order to create an avenue where girls have access to a dignified life.
The theme for this year’s celebration: “Digital Generation, Our Generation” captures the need to empower the girls with digital knowledge for career empowerment so as to be relevant in the 21st-century job market and skills needed to tackle gender-based violence and inequality.
Today, we are in a society where the boy child is more glorified than the girl child. As such, most girls don’t grow up in a world of opportunity, instead, they create one. Girls are usually confronted with challenges due to gender but narratives must be changed about the value of a girl child. Every girl child deserves to be educated and empowered as this would prepare her for future challenges.
Building a sane society where the girls would enjoy equal rights as much as the boys, feel safe and fulfil their potentials requires a collective effort. Culture and ethnic bias have made some parents concentrate solely on the boy child who is often referred to as the heir, thereby undermining the great potentials of the girl child. Parents need to understand that investing in girls would guarantee a bright future for the girls and their communities.
Parents are the first custodians for girls and the protection of the girl child should be their primary responsibility. In this age and time where the girls are being abused by close relatives and allies, parents must be more vigilant. Parents need to stop sending their girls to hawk on the street because it exposes them to men who might sexually abuse them. There is a need to invest massively in the education of the girl child rather than sending her to hawk goods or giving her out in early marriage.
Early marriage should be outlawed, and parents should be educated about the benefits of later marriage. Even though this is peculiar to the northern part of the country, there is a need to set up a National Children’s Commission which would be saddled with the responsibility of defending the rights of the girl child in an educational, social, cultural, political, and economic context.
The community also has a role to play in abolishing every form of discrimination against the girl child in society. The girl child should be seen as important as the boy child. Violence against the girl child such as female genital mutilation should be abolished, it does no good to the girl child. FGM does not curb promiscuity as widely believed, rather good moral education is what is needed. In some communities, while the boys are sent to school and empowered, the girls are sent to the farm or made to do the house chores because it is believed that the girls would end up as mothers and wives in the kitchen. This narrative must be changed because denying girls education retards their progress and endangers their future.
The school is another factor that should not be left out in this quest for change. Teachers have an important role to play in teaching about sex education, drug education, and respect for girls.
Research has shown that from ages 15 and 24, about one out of every three girls has suffered one form of violence or the other either through sexual harassment, rape or incest. So the government needs to ensure that the laws supporting the rights and protection of the girl child are enforced. Rapists should be made to face the full wrath of the law. The Nigerian lawmakers in Kaduna state have approved a measure to castrate men convicted of raping children under the age of 14. This should be emulated by other states.
Government should create an enabling environment for the girl child to thrive and excel, to reduce the inequalities between boys and girls. If the girls are effectively supported, they have the potentials to change the world as well as become tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, and political leaders. Every day, girls are breaking barriers and boundaries and they are becoming unstoppable.
The celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child is marked to abolish all kinds of injustice and hatred against the daughters of the world. Everybody should care for the welfare of the girl child because she is as important as the boy child.
Therefore, make a girl happy and feel special today.