Some weeks ago, I was invited to speak with a group of individuals on the International Day of the Girl and when I realised I was not going to be speaking to a group of young girls, it birthed the idea for this reflection. Most times, gender advocates love to speak with and inspire young girls because they are the ones who have tons finally realise who they are and what they are meant to be. But, my interactions with people lately have shown that beyond talking to these girls, we also reach them by interacting with the people who have the biggest influence on their life.
Under normal circumstances, no one influences a child’s life more than his or her parents. From birth till adulthood, our parents are an undeniable force and a voice of reason in our heads. Our first morals and lessons were from our parents and till date, some of us still consult them, from time to time, for seasoned words of advice.
I would like to use this opportunity to appeal to parents and parents-to-be. We have long complained about the standards that society set and how they have been tiring to live up to it. But, the truth is that society did not just appear from nowhere. It is made up of families, and families are headed and run by parents. Many of us grow up with what we are taught and we live with this until we are convinced to believe or think otherwise. Some of us are so loyal to the beliefs our parents handed down to us that it almost impossible for us to do away with them even when someone tries to convince us with superior arguments. That is how deep parental conditioning goes.
Imagine if our parents raised us to see women as equal to men. Imagine if we were raised to see ourselves as deserving of respect and happiness just as men are. Would we not have less things to fight for. Part of gender advocacy is actually letting the girl realise her worth first before telling society to recognise it. This is because if you are fighting for someone who does not think she is worth fighting for, she may fight you or resent you for fighting for her. But take a second and imagine if mummy and daddy told her the truth and raised her as an unscripted and unstoppable girl. Imagine if she knew that she was born to lead and her dreams are valid. Imagine if she is raised to see that marriage is not the biggest or most important achievement she could ever attain.
Imagine if people were as excited when a girl was born as they were when a boy was born. Imagine if the girl was never scolded or corrected with: “Is that how you will do this in your husband’s house?” Imagine if the girl was not made to do her brother’s chores even though he is just a year younger and capable of handling them himself. Imagine if the girl was not asked to apologise to her brother when he was clearly in the wrong. Imagine if the girl was never, at any time in her upbringing, made to feel less important or inferior to the boy. Imagine if a girl was not told that in the future, I pray that you will be the wife of a president, governor and the like, rather you will become president and governor. What kind of girl would she turn out to be?
It is often said that it is easier to raise children than to mend broken adults. This is why I have come to realise that the future of advocacy lies in parents and would-be parents deciding to raise their children up to see both genders as equal and complementary. The good book says that when you train yourself a child in the way he or she should go, when s/he is old, s/he would not depart from it.
Changing an adult’s mindset is one of the toughest challenges I have encountered during the course of my work, and this is because adults are difficult to persuade and convince. Sometimes, even when you point out all the flaws in their logic or belief system, pride or the fact that they have believed this for so long would prevent them from making the shift and believing differently. They would rather hold on to the views they grew up with and would not want to ask why things are that way.
But children are not that way. They are open to learning and correction, especially if you are a good parent or caregiver. Hence, as potential parents, we have a lot to do in grooming the next generation of unscripted and unstoppable girls. We could start from the young girls around us today. I am sure that right now, a lot of us have girls in our lives that are accountable to us directly or indirectly. We should see to the grooming of these young ones and help them have a clear understanding of their identity. We should never let them question their worth or equality, and we should always endeavour to make sure they always give life their very best.
Let us not join those that discourage girls from studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and learning things that were long before known as male-dominated fields. We should applaud ourselves girls and cheer them on in whatever interests they have. We should not stifle their dreams or shut them down. Let us see more engineers, lawyers, neurosurgeons, athletes, architects, pilots, soldiers and world leaders emerge out of our girls.
Finally, I would like mothers and potential mothers to stop pressuring girls to marry or raising them with the mindset that all they learn or do is just so that they could get married. It is not a healthy way to raise the girl. Train her to be smart, kind, domestic, caring, and so on, because it makes her a better person and an individual who could look after herself. Do not train her just because being a wife is the most important thing she would amount to. This is because not every girl would marry, but every girl could be fulfilled if they knew that they could do great things with or without marriage.
Adewuyi is a social educator and a girl-child/gender advocate