“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman or girl, you educate a nation.” This well-known African proverb has long been motivating people around the world to strive for education for all. To me, education is the crucial element for women to join this movement of gender equality. And in this year’s International Day of the Girl, I believe we not only celebrate the achievement of women/girls in the past, but we also need to remind ourselves to accelerate gender parity and reflect on our work on this journey.
It should be noted that every eleventh of October marks International Day of the Girl, an international observance day declared by the United Nations to celebrate opportunity for girls, and raise awareness of the importance of gender equality. The day was first celebrated on 2012 by Plan International, a group which operates around the world, advocating children’s right in over 71 countries. The day began with “Because I am a Girl”, a campaign aimed at increasing awareness of gender inequality, especially in developing countries. This eventually led Plan International to approach the Canadian federal government to raise support internationally.
From there, an international day of awareness was proposed in the United Nations General Assembly, and International Day of the Girl was born. Indeed, on that International Day of the Girl 2015, then, President Barack Obama made a presidential proclamation, where he wrote; “On International Day of the Girl, we recognise our obligation to lift up women and girls at home and abroad and to build a world where all girls feel safe and empowered in their classrooms, their communities, and their homes.
In recent times, the violation of the rights of the girl-child has been on the increase. Rape, early marriage, slavery, gender inequality, and genital mutilation among other vices remain causes of contraventions on the rights of girls. Though, several attempts have been made to elevate the lives of the girl-child to reduce discriminations and all forms of violence against them. Yet, these advances remain a mirage in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa.
In view of this, the United Nations Organization (UNO) in 1995 in Beijing, China, during the 4th World Women Conference consensually adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a blueprint for advancing the rights of women and the girl-child. This declaration was the first to specifically spell out the girl-child’s right which includes non-discrimination, the right to survival and development of potential; protection from harmful influences, abuses and exploitation; and full participation in family, cultural and social life.
The convention also spell out some human rights violations that are unique to the girl child, including discrimination based upon sex, prenatal sex selection, female genital mutilation and early marriage. These human rights were further articulated on 19 December, 2011 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution 6/170 to declare 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child, and that resolution highlights and recognises girl’s rights and the challenges that girls face universally. Thus, the first International Day of the Girl Child was observed for the first time on 11 October 2012 and since then the day has been observed annually all over the World.
International day of the Girl-Child aims to support more opportunity for girls and increase awareness of inequality confronted by girls worldwide based upon their gender. This inequality includes non-access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence and early child marriage. The day also recognizes the empowerment of and investment in girls, which are critical for economic growth, the achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals which includes the gender equality as well as the meaningful participation of girls in decisions that affects them.
This year the theme of the celebration “Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable gives credence to the fact that the girl child is no longer faceless and voiceless but equip to change her world if given equal opportunities with her male counterpart. The girl-child needs the society’s support to raise our voices to defend, cherish, and uphold her virtues as a future woman and mother. Therefore, on Friday, October 11, 2019, Ogun State joined other countries of the world to celebrate the 2019 International Day of the girl-child. As part of intervention to ensure equality for girls, the State Government under the leadership of Prince Dapo Abiodun is aware of issues affecting the girl-child and is working assiduously to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls in the State. Hence, various women and girl-child friendly laws are being enacted to facilitate their participation in policy formulation.
To this end, the State has signed the “Prohibition of Violence against Persons” bill into law. The implication of this is that Ogun State has developed a zero tolerance for violence and would stop at nothing to protect its citizenry, particularly the girls. This government hopes to realize the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals five and ten, gender equality and reduce inequality respectively, and these SDGs goals remains the main focus of this administration as it sees gender inequality as an aberration against human right and a stereo-type that should be condemn and discontinued across the state. To empower the girl children, priorities are been given to their right to education, health and empowerment.
Governor Abiodun in his short stay in office and magnanimity has declared education free at both the primary and secondary school levels irrespective of gender, religious and tribe affiliations. This means that in Ogun every child has equal opportunity to education. So, it has commenced the renovation and constructions of new blocks of classrooms in schools across the State to create conducive learning environment for pupils and students. Also, the State government has embarked on massive training and retraining of teachers to meet up with modern teaching skills and techniques that would take education to the next level.
To commemorate the International Day of the Girl-Child, the Wife of the Governor, Mrs. Bamidele Abiodun at a seminar in Abeokuta spoke extensively on the need to take the campaign to all the twenty local government and thirty seven LCDA in the state, that girl-child is unique and should not be less preferred to the boy-child. She advised parents to treat girls equally with the boy as there is no difference between them except the physical features. The Wife of the Governor also charged girls to rise up to challenges of life and not be intimidated by the violations of their rights, but be committed to their studies as this would make them a better person in the future. She further said that the day was observed to protect the rights of girls, since they constitute a larger percentage in the development of any nation, thus encouraged girls to pick a lesson from the theme, Girl Force: Unstoppable and Unscripted, and not see themselves as victim of circumstance, a unique individual that could change her world positively.
On her part, the State Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women Affairs, Mrs. Oluranti Oladeinde added that the United Nations recognizes the girl child as a potent force needed in the developmental machinery of any nation, saying that the theme of the celebration was chosen to reflect on the situation of the World at present and the role that could be played in promoting joy and happiness in the home fronts and the society at large. She added that government alone cannot meet the needs of the people. It needs the participation of stakeholders, and individuals to help boost the socio-economic advancement of the girl-child by improving on their education and further widen their scope of senses and the space for them to have inheritance among their family members. When the girl-child is educated and empowered, she would be in better position to contribute meaningfully to national development.
Hence, all hands must be on deck to fight all forms of discriminations and violence against the girl-child. Together we need to always say No to Gender inequality and inequitable treatment being meted on girls, in order to liberate the indigent girl children. The society also needs to address issues bothering on child marriage, girl right to enter places of worship or public places during their period.
Some cultures even see the girl child as an economic burden on the family. They believe girls do not significantly contribute to the family income and as such should be married off for large dowries. This notion is wrong and should be discarded because when given the chance, girls could be positive agents of change that would impact excellently on the society. Our belief systems about the values of girls must also change, because these days, girls are making waves. They no longer see themselves as inferior to their male counterpart but a force to reckon with at any circumstances.
This year, the World is celebrating achievements, by with and for girls. So, let’s sensitize and enlighten everyone in our communities and the public at large that the girl-child is equal to the task and as the saying goes “what a boy can do a girl can do better”. Therefore, the society needs to curb appalling practices that would deter the girl-child from carrying out her God given talents and role as a future woman.
Girls are moving, they are unscripted and unstoppable. Therefore it is our collective responsibility as government, stakeholders, societies, religious body, traditional rulers to educate the masses on the role of the girls-child and raising the campaign as laid down by the United Nations on the rights of the girls. Girls need to be loved, cherished and taken well care of to be able to contribute their quota to nation building. And according to United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Gantarreo’s words: “We need to uphold the equal rights, voice and importance of girls in our families, communities and nation. Girls can be powerful agents of change and nothing should keep them from participating fully in all areas of life.”
Sodehinde is of Ministry of Information and Strategy, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, Ogun State.