This is the last extract from the Synopsis Engagement Programme that took place on January 12, 2014, with Dr. Mairo Usman Mandara, the Country Director of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and, formerly, the Senior Health System Advisor for the Earth Institute, University of Columbia New York City.
Osita Udenson, Project Director, Udenson Caldbeck Associates UK (Project Management, Economic and Urban Regeneration Specialists), London, UK: We have continually talked about the Millennium GOAL of educating the girl child. More than 10 years down the line, Agencies such as DFID are still finding it tough going. You are obviously a high achiever who has managed to balance family life, a career as well as remaining a devout Muslim. Even with role models like you why do you think it is still difficult to change attitudes towards educating the girl child and how might you and others use your positions to help achieve a turnaround?
Dr. Mandara: Osita, you really are taking the bull by the horn. I think the main challenge in education is that a lot of educated people work on assumptions. We assume we know what others need to improve their lives. We also assume we know what is good for them and what is bad for them. And because we know, we are very quick to give them prescriptions on what they need to do or better still what they should do without recourse to what their concerns and values are. In some cases, we even start by telling them how ignorant and uninformed they are. This is something that for some reason comes with modern education – a kind of arrogance that I know it all.
Perhaps this is a time to have some introspection. What do we need to do differently ourselves to engage with those communities? I think the responsibility lies a lot with people like me who need to demonstrate more than speak.
Safiya S Musa, Management Staff, FBN, Abu Dhabi Representative Office, UAE: The advent of Social Media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs etc) have made it possible for youth along the length and breadth of Nigeria to communicate and indeed share ideas. These powerful platforms have been used to orchestrate behavioural change in a number of ways across the globe. How can we harness this to the betterment of reproductive health and rights of women, and what role do you think the youth of Nigeria play in this regard? Secondly, what mechanisms are in place to support youth based advocacy groups, and how readily can these be accessed?
Dr. Mandara: Safiya, social media is probably the most important vehicle for change in the community of educated young people who do live above the poverty line. Unfortunately, most of the girls and women who need support and who are deprived are below the poverty line. Even if they are computer literate, they have no basic internet service. The youth of the Arab world were able to participate in the Arab Spring because they lived above the poverty line. It would be very interesting if we could discuss about how the IT youth can support young boys and girls who live below the poverty line to be initiated into the technology culture. I am sure this can be a very useful tool.
Ibraheem Waziri, IT Specialist and Lecturer, ABU Zaria, Nigeria: Hajiya, it is our pride to have you here talking to us this afternoon. You are indeed a practical demonstration of how a Northern Nigerian Muslim woman can successfully manage her public identity, integrate her time-honored values in both her marital and career living, in these turbulent waters of the 21st century, where the conflict within the highlighted items is very audible and managing through them very difficult to achieve. What by fair assessment do you think is responsible for this? What role can a parent or a husband play in producing your kind of accomplishment? How do you suppose that a young Muslim lady or a married one should carry herself around the modern social media spaces?
Dr. Mandara: Ibrahim, I am glad it is a man asking this question and not a lady. For women to develop their God-given potentials, they need the support of men as do men need the support of women even though this is taken for granted!
Growing up, I had a wonderful man in my life – my dad – who not only gave me permission but also encouraged me to pursue my dreams (within our norms). I remember he always said that there were only three obligations he had to all his children; Good food and clothing, good upbringing and good education, and anyone who did not take all three was on his own. He had a couple of investments in houses, but towards the end of his life, he would sale a house at a time, eat up all the money because he said it was ‘his’ and will actually ‘sadistically’ announce that he would not leave behind anything to be inherited. Those of us who chose to study were in the best private secondary schools, even then, and those who did not, he said they had different graves with him.