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Illiteracy: Nollywood actress, UN deputy Sec-Gen, lead ONE #GirlsCount campaign to save 130m Nigerian girls

By Olasunkanmi Akoni

ASMAU, 13 and her sister, Aisha, 12 live in Wurno, a town in Sokoto State a few kilometres from the Nigeria-Niger border. They had never been to school until UNICEF’s cash transfer programme supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development restored opportunity for attending school. The cash transfer programme is an intervention initiative that assists parents to send mainly their daughters to school.

Asmau and Aisha could have ended up in child marriage before their 16th birthdays, or engaged in petty trading on the street. They would join millions of other girls who have totally lost control of their lives, faced with risk of being raped or the burden of responsibilities of wifehood and motherhood even as children. Disheartening as that might sound, it is just one of many other consequences of the systemic failure to provide universal basic education for all Nigerian children, with millions of girls out of school.

Generation of adolescent girls

Globally, 130 million girls are not in school largely because girls in the poorest countries are less likely to receive an education than boys. This means a generation of adolescent girls is being denied the education they need to get a job, broaden their opportunities, and break the cycle of poverty. One, a global advocacy and campaigning organisation, launched the #GirlsCount campaign ahead of the March 8 International Women’s Day. The campaign aims at rallying ordinary citizens and prominent voices from around the world to bring a spotlight on the crisis of growing number of out-of-school girls and demanding action from global leaders.

In Nigeria, Nollywood actress, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, is the main face of the campaign, which has been backed by the new UN Deputy Secretary-General, Ms. Amina Mohammed and co-founder, Bring Back Our Girls, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili. A recent report on ‘Girls Education in Nigeria’ by the British Council showed that 54 percent of adolescent girls in the North East are out of school, 53 percent in the North West, 21 percent in the North Central, 9 per cent in the South South, 6 per cent in the South West and 4 per cent in the South-East.

The #GirlsCount campaign features citizens from every walk of life joining forces by filming themselves counting a number between one and 130 million out loud.  However, ONE plans to combine the videos into the world’s longest ever film to urge world leaders to take the action needed. As part of the campaign, ONE published an annual report with the title, ‘Poverty is Sexist: Why Educating Every Girl is Good for Everyone’, to draw attention to the crisis–and opportunity–around girls’ education and demonstrate why educating girls is a smart investment. The report states that educating girls to the same level as boys could benefit developing countries to the tune of at least $112 billion a year and helps stabilize societies that are vulnerable to extremism.

It notes that the consequences of not educating girls are grave:. They are more vulnerable to diseases like HIV, and more likely to die young. “Failing to make such an impactful and cost effective investment now amounts to an emergency that we cannot ignore. Education has the potential to improve not only girls’ lives, but those of their families, their communities and their countries. Despite this, 130 million girls are out of school. If this were the population of a country, it would be the 10th largest nation in the world – the size of the United Kingdom and France put together”, the report states.

Omotola, who is#GirlsCount Ambassador, delivered her message emotively and demanded that government address what she called the injustice. “Growing up in Nigeria, I was lucky to have access to quality education. Today, there are 130 million girls globally who have not had the same opportunities as I had and are denied the chance to go to school,” she said.

She added, “These girls are kept out of the classroom, not by choice. That’s why I am joining with the ONE Campaign to demand that our leaders address this injustice and  support every girl’s right to learn  by doubling the funding for education by 2020. To show that we stand behind our 130 million sisters, we are counting every single one.   “Our girls have so much to offer, so let’s make sure that we give them the tools to reach their full potential.”

The Nigeria Director of ONE Campaign, Serah Makka, stressed on the fact that #GirlsCount campaign is uniting people with the aim of making a huge difference in the area of girl-child education.  According to her, “It is a global crisis that 130 million girls are not in school and Nigeria is unfortunately contributing a significant share to this. Educating girls secures the future of Nigeria. #GirlsCount is uniting people to make the scale of this crisis clear and to call on leaders to act urgently.”

It is the opinion of stakeholders that it remained to be seen whether President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will key-in to the campaign by exerting sufficient political will and tact in policy formulation and implementation, with the goal of making sure every Nigerian girl is educated. “If this happens, then this intervention would become the avenue through which millions of girls like Asmau and Aisha would escape what would inevitably be a life marked by illiteracy,” Makka stated.


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