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Two sides of the same coin

By Denrele Animasaun
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”—Desmond Tutu

They say that; “women hold up half the sky,” I wish it were true. No matter how much people say that men and women are equal, that female plays an important role in society. The truth is that it has never been a partnership of equals when it comes to gender. This is despite the fact that many studies have shown that when the lot of the women folks improves, the whole society benefits.

Let us be honest, majority of us value boys more than girls and would rather invest in the boys rather than the girls.I remember a saying the good child is the father’s and bad child belongs to the mother. Some go as far as to say that having a girl is like tending a neighbour’s garden, well, they are only tending it temporarily. We celebrate the birth of a son and commiserate at the arrival of a girl child. The value is placed on the boy and the blame is placed on the mother and she is made to feel a failure for not providing a male and an heir.

If only we understand that it is a matter of biology and that is one of the best reasons for education! My go to quotes of all time is “if you educate a man, you educate a man, but if you educate a woman you educate a society. So why is it that the powers that be are dragging their feet to address gender inequality? If they ignore the needs of half of the population, then you wonder if they have the interest of the whole population.

Successive administrations had failed the Nigerian female, as they have failed to equip her and give her the tools to fulfil her potential.

For so long as parents choose their male child to be educated or trained for a trade and the girl is often consigned to the home until she is married off and have her own family. There is more to a woman than being a wife and a mother.

There seems there are low aspirations for the girl child. It is important that both boys and girls are equally educated so that they can contribute productively to the society; no one should be left behind.  A society that invests in its future generations will yield untold dividend; a more cohesive and united society, tolerant, progressive, prosperous and healthy people with a better standard of living. It is important that the government invest and prioritise education for all young people regardless of their gender.

This week marked The Day of the Girl. This year the event focuses on measuring progress-“Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: What Counts for Girls” and highlighting the role of data in contributing to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal 5; which is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.

This is a huge undertaking and it will take a Herculean feat to achieve these goals in the short space of time and in the current global situation, it will take a while.

The UNICEF reported that girls age 5 to 14 around the world spend about 550 million hours each day on household chores, 160 million more hours than boys their age spend. Save the Children report estimated that one girl under the age of 15 is married every 7 seconds!

We know this to be true because many underage girls are married in some part of the country. Some apologists have said that Nigerians should stick with tradition, religious tenets and that the country should not succumb to western influence. The paternalistic stance belongs to a different age and besides, you would think that when you know better, you do better. Many would want their own children to be educated yet will not give the same opportunity to the rest of the population.

Hiding behind archaic reasons to justify subjugating young girls is a cop out and it does not fly in this day and age. The lawmakers who rejected gender equality and marital rights for women have missed a great opportunity to prepare the nation for the 21st century. Nigeria can do better and should do better.

Last year Malawi passed a law raising the minimum marriage age to 18. Prior to that Malawi had one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. The success of Malawi government was that they worked with community partners and tribal chiefs to implement the new law at a local level. If Malawi can achieve this milestone, so can Nigeria. It is not out of the reach for the Nigerian lawmakers to change the dogma and improve the lives of women and girls in Nigeria. It is time to make compulsory schooling for girls up to the age of 16 rather than be forced to marry young, have children young, possibly miscarry numerous times, and endanger their lives during childbirth.

According to the United Nations, the life expectancy from birth for the Nigerian female is 47.4% as compared to males which are 48.6.

Nigerian females make up 49.4% of the Nigerian population, so you would have thought that their needs will be inclusive. The literacy rate for Nigerian males is 69.19% and female is a mere 40.68%!

UNICEF report has shown that Nigeria after India , has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world and Nigeria loses about 145 women of childbearing age every day, during pregnancies, from causes that could have been prevented and 2300 children under five die every day. Time to improve the lot of Nigerian girl child and perhaps the yearly average.

The celebration will keep equality on the agenda and it will help to raise awareness about gender inequality.

Celebrating the event in America, Obama’s administration  is getting more young women involved in historically male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math fields and it is committed to keeping  pushing  for equal pay, promote campaigns to curb sexual assault on college campuses.

Similarly in the UK, with the newly selected female prime minister and many women in the parliament and many top positions, the UK still has a long way to go reach gender equality but it is getting there to achieve parity for women in politics and in commerce.

Long road ahead for the Chibok girls.

The news that 21 girls of out of more than over 200 abducted  from Chibok by Boko Haram fighters in 2014 have been released after a lengthy  negotiation.

This is the news that many have been waiting for but it is bittersweet for those parents whose daughters are yet to taste freedom.

It was confirmed that three out of the 21 are without child.

The presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said:”The release of the girls … is an outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The negotiations will continue.”

The girls are not out of the woods yet. They would need gentle care and understanding as most of them will be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.  They cannot immediately readjust to the outside world, the family and the community will need time to heal.

They will be mentally and physically scared and they definitely need time away from the public eye. I wish them well and I hope that the rest of the girls are found and that they return safely home to their family and community.

Displaced people of Banki

BH has created horror and mayhem where ever they go. It’s unbelievable the level of people that left their home to escape the clutches of the insurgents and they have been refugees in their homeland. There are thousands of displaced people in the refugee camp near neighbouring Cameroon. They are dying of starvation and clean water. According to the charity that is treating young children and women at the camps, the situation is so desperate so many young children are dying of starvation and diseases. The roads to these camps are inaccessible and little or no food has been delivered to thousands of displaced people stranded and unable to go back to their community because of BH.

What was shown in western media is sad and heart wrenching: people are dying of malnutrition and opportunistic diseases such as malaria and cholera. The camp is makeshift and many are living in the squalor and lack of hygiene, there are now cases of Polio. One of the reasons being that food and medicine are not reaching the camps is that the supplies are stopped so as not to get it into the hands of the insurgents. But this very action is punishing many thousands and they are dying of starvation. It was said that the government is not responding adequately to the needs of the displaced people.  It has reached a high level of humanitarian disaster and more help is needed for these people.

I do hope that PMB takes Germany’s help so that Nigeria can return once more to a safer and secure country. Banki needs the nation’s support and immediate attention.

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