Dilemma of the girl-child

The issues of discrimination against the girl-child would continue to elicit serious concerns until drastic change takes place. A recent forum provided another opportunity to examine the problem. Reminding all, a top official of the Girls Guide movement, Mrs. Abimbola Ayanwale, has observed that despite the widely celebrated adoption of the Beijing Declaration, Platform for Action and the passage of the Convention on the Rights of the Girl Child in 1990, many of the commitments made to girls are yet to be fulfilled. Mrs. Ayanwale stated that “Every year, 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married off, 130 million girls worldwide are still out of school, and approximately 15 million adolescent girls with ages ranging between 15 and 19 have experienced forced sex”.

Mrs. Ayanwale, who is the District Commissioner, Girl Guides, Odeda area of Ogun State made the call during the just-concluded celebration of the International Day of Girl Child with the theme “Girls! Unscripted and Unstoppable”, disclosing that October 11 every year had been set aside by the United Nations Women, to celebrate girls. Ayanwale said the campaign was to wake-up the girl-child, to assert their rights. “All girls must be aware that they have their lives to live and not for anyone. Nobody should script their lives, nobody should stop them, they just have to live their lives the way they want it to be”, she added.

She encouraged the girl-child to live up to expectations and that they also have equal rights like the boys. She said that girls were being molested and forced to do away with their dignity for material wealth. She, therefore, encouraged them to be alert and always speak out because the girl-child molestation happens everywhere. She called on government and other stakeholders, to support girls and that more laws should be promulgated to protect their interest. Mr. Lanre Irhieme, who was guest speaker at the event, said sexual misconduct could occur where one person uses a position of authority to compel another person to engage in unwanted sexual activity, adding that sexual harassment in schools might involve a student submitting to sexual advances of a person in authority for fear of being punished or marked down.

He advised the girls to value their bodies, noting that the virginity of a girl was the most important thing in her life. According to Irhieme, when a girl loses her virginity, she has psychologically lost everything. He implored them to dress decently, not to attract unwanted attention and to prevent any molestation. He stressed that the girl-child must learn how to speak out and also learn the art of self-defense against sexual abuse. He appealed to parents, most especially mothers and teachers, to draw the girl-child closer to them, to repose trust and confidence in them. A participant at the event, Miss Soliat Atayese said the girl-child had talents, which the world should see, advising that ridiculing the girl-child as being weak should stop, as they should be treated the same way as boys.

In a study titled, “Putting Women and the Girl Child at the Centre of Africa’s Development, recent United Nations reports indicate that progress had been made globally in key components of the MDGs since year 2000. These include significant reductions in levels of extreme poverty, enrolment of children in schools, improvements in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, expanded access to clean water and increased access to information and communication technology. However, progress made has been highly uneven between and within countries, as Sub-Saharan African has had the slowest rate of growth in these indicators, with marginalised groups and populations in countries within the continent experiencing the slowest rate of improvement in these indicators.

To date, women remain under-represented in economic, social and political spheres in many African countries, as compared to their male folks.  As a corollary, the girl child continues to suffer collateral damage, with the same negative cultural and societal attitudes being visited on the girl-child, while there continues to be preference for the male child throughout the continent. In addition to the suggestions given, there is also the need for some of the international agreements reached over the past two decades aimed at promoting gender equality and removing discrimination against women to be fully implemented of international instrument for eliminating discrimination against women through appropriate legislation.  

Putting the girl-child at the centre of Nigeria’s development is not only an ethical and moral issue; it is the right option to take. Appropriate principles and policies on gender equality and gender equity should be integrated into all development milestones, and African governments should be made aware about the rationale and methods for doing so. Strong political will and ownership at international, regional and national levels would be essential to promote the needed social change for women and girl-child emancipation and social development, the report further recommends. More importantly, I think what is still lacking is the sincerity of purpose on the part of those concerned in bringing about the change in our society. This is the bitter truth.

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