Irene Ugbah is a girl-child advocate and she is also the founder of Crestville Development Foundation. In this interview with ENE OSHABA, she stresses the need for the enactment of special laws that will directly tackle rape and other violence against the girl-child and women.
Recently, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child; how would you access the girl-child situation in Nigeria?
The state of the girl-child is worse now considering the increase in rape cases and gender-based violence; and the lockdown also exacerbated the situation.
What remarkable progress would you say has been made since the last year’s celebration in terms of the needs of the girl-child?
In my opinion, the major progress if any is the fact that more girls now come out to report about ills being meted out to them, unlike previously when people feared to do so over stigmatisation and all.
The girl-child is often described as the engendered species; what is your take on this?
Well, I would say more vulnerable because of certain cultural and patriarchal practices, and that is why I am advocating for the girl-child because she is more vulnerable than the boy-child. It as a a girl-child that drops out of school if she gets pregnant, put a hold on her dream, etc, while the boy who got her pregnant carries on as if nothing has happened.
One setback for girls is equal education opportunities; any improvement on this yet?
Maybe there would have been some level of improvements, but with the Covid- 19 lockdown what would have been improvement in girl-child education may have been lost now seeing the staggering numbers of rape cases and increased poverty.
Some raped girls may become pregnant causing her to pause temporarily or permanently. Again, poverty has increased especially among the lower class which may cause some parents to choose amongst the children to go to school. Most times it is the girls that are asked to stay back for the boys.
Recently, the Minister of Women Affairs disclosed that amidst several policies to enable a better life for girls discrimination of girls is still on the increase. How would you rate implementation of the girl-child friendly laws in Nigeria?
I advocate for a Girl Child Law to specifically take care of issues of the girl-child. I know people would say there is the Child Rights Act, but the Girl Child Law would target specifics.
Though Covid-19 is easing off in Nigeria, how would you access its effects on the Nigerian girl?
Like I stated earlier, during the lockdown there was increase in rape cases. Again, it is still quite early to determine the full impact as schools are just resuming. It will take a while to know the full impact of Covid-19 on the girl-child.
What should be done differently to ensure quality life for girls, and in which particular areas does the girl-child need intervention?
We should stop paying lip service to issues that bother on girls. Girls need intervention in almost of every area – education, ending period poverty, stop rape and gender-based violence, and so on and so forth. As regards quality life for the girl-child, government should work with community-based organisations (CBOs) working in underserved areas which we already know that girls in such areas are prone to being taken advantage of.
These CBOs’ responsibility will be enlightening parents and guardians on ways to protect the girl-child and discourage child bride. They will also give talk on sexual health and contraceptives. In addition, jingles in local languages should be created and aired on televisions discouraging gender-based violence, early child marriages and protection of our girls.
Some Nigerians are of the opinion that a second chance school for girls is in another way promoting immorality in the society, do you agree with this notion?
I don’t agree. Do we say because there are hospitals sickness is being promoted? However, the proponent must have thought it through and consulted far and wide. My suggestion would be that there should be a system that can integrate such girls back to the mainstream school, if possible.
What are your expectations for the girl-child after 60 years of independence?
Nigeria is already 60 years and the girl-child expectations are already cut short. But moving forward, I expect more proactive policies for the girl-child.
What would be your advice for the overall development of the girl-child?
Let’s research what is working for the girl-child in other countries in terms of policies and practices and adapt them to our own situation.