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The year of the girl

By Denrele Animasaun

No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens” – Michelle Obama

11th of October marked International Day of the Girl. It is an annual day dedicated to raising issues concerning the gender inequality facing young girls. This year’s theme is “The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030.” This may seem trite to those who are cynical and those who belittle a girl child from birth and to the grave and it would not mean a thing to many it is business as usual.

I hope, one day, we will not have to dedicate a day to girls to raise, promote their wellbeing and improve their future. Today is not that day and I guess, we have too many bridges to cross before we can fully arrive at parity for half of our population. The truth be said, culturally being born a female comes with so many disadvantages: reduced life chances right from the get go, they are seen as inferior and a burden.

The girl child is seen as foder, whose mother fail to produce a male and heir, she is more likely to be trafficked and work in the  sex industry, life of servitude, early marriage and motherhood, victim of genital mutilation, be  victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, suffer trauma and abandonment.

There are nearly 600 million girls aged 10 to 19 in the world today, each with limitless individual potential, however they are disappearing from public awareness and the international development agenda. Between inequities in secondary education to protection issues, it is evident that adolescent girls are uniquely impacted and they would benefit from targeted investments and programmes that address their distinct needs.

The plan is respective governments and international bodies should invest in adolescent girls with the hope that it will create ripple effect and create a better world by 2030. ONE Africa Deputy Director, Nachilala Nkombo said: “it is worrying that 53 million of the 130 million girls out of school are African girls. Without investment for girls left out of school, Africa risks missing out on achieving its Demographic Dividend in full.

We urge African governments to increase their investment in education to reach 20% of their national budgets to education by 2030 but also have targeted education investments that expand skills and opportunities for its young people particularly young women in poor households.”

This is shocking that the most disadvantaged, misrepresented, abused, disadvantaged and most exploited is the female population. Judging from the comments on social media, it is neither surprising nor unexpected that many are often too dismissive of anything ever changing; there lies the double tragedy; hopelessness and helplessness.

What do we tell our girls? That they should expect nothing ever changing and that they should just get on with it? We should want better for our female children and any less, then we are perpetuating the status quo.

Our government should be leading the way in advancing our young girls’ future so, why are they dragging their feet and while robbing them of their potential. Action is needed like yesterday and they have to stop blaming everyone but themselves for their lack of progress. In the meantime, the rich and the powerful send their female children to schools, universities abroad and indirectly continue to deny so many more disadvantaged majority the opportunity to get an education and work their way out of poverty and misery.

Africa has significant, historical female warriors and innovators, and a female president, so don’t let anyone say women cannot make a difference because women have proven time and time again, that they can and they are up to the task.

Sub-Sahara Africa has got to do more; nine of the top ten countries where girls fail to get a life-changing, poverty-busting education are largely in Africa, and all are fragile states. Nigeria’s ranked low in the league of table, places it in 118th in the ranking and it is not a cause to celebrate its failure, on the contrary, this administration should redouble its effort to do better. The Gender in Nigeria in 2012 report indicated that young women ages 15 and 24 are more likely to have experienced physical abuse.

Most men are more likely to justify physical abuse and this happens on a daily basis in Nigeria. We often downplay abuse towards girls and women. How can we say we value our women and yet treat them like punching bags or fail to recognise their invaluable contribution to our nation?

Until we have an open conversation and a public   information drive on abuse against girls and women, then I am afraid, we cannot begin to make any progress in creating a better and equitable Nigeria.

According to the World Bank, if young Nigerian women had the same employment opportunities as young Nigerian men, they would add 13.9 billion Naira in annual GDP. So it makes sense, you would think that Nigeria, should work towards mandatory education for   all girls, just as it has for boys.   Girls are often not given that opportunity as in our society we often write off the girl child.

In a nation of 180 million people, women make up 49.5% of the population so there is no better place for parity. It is common in our culture to place more value on boys than girls. The odds are already stacked against the female and Nigeria is not alone.

The sad fact is one-quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18 according to the United Nations Population Fund. The focus should therefore be on health and human rights of girls and women. Only then, we can begin to seriously make the pledge towards gender parity. Let us do away with soundbites and the rhetoric’s, we need commitment and actions. We need to change our mind-set in the way that girls and women are treated in our society.

The ONE Campaign, Gayle Smith, said: “Over 130 million girls are still out of school — that’s over 130 million potential engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers and politicians whose leadership the world is missing out on.

It’s a global crisis that perpetuates poverty and according to her; across Africa today millions of girls didn’t get to go to school, or walked long distances in dangerous conditions to get there, or sat in a classroom without a teacher or textbooks. This is not just about getting more girls into school, it’s about the women they grow up to be: educated, empowered and employed.

Our political leaders failed our girls most spectacularly and they continue to pay lip service to one single day and repeating soundbites that is all talk and no substance. They would do better to address this inequality as it affects us all.

The wife of the Vice president, Mrs. Osinbajo, once said that, she regretted that girls who are supposed to be mothers of tomorrow were no longer safe in the country and that the girls are under threat.  Mrs. Osinbajo said that many girls in the country are passing through difficult times as they are being sexually abused, abducted and killed. That Nigerians must join hands to help the girl-child. And she went on: “What do you teach them because they cannot give what they don’t have? The mothers of tomorrow cannot be mothers if they don’t have what it takes.   We have to value our girls and provide them with academic and civic responsibility for the future.

Dishonourable honourable.

I know the clip of the former Chief of Army Staff during the Second Republic, Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade (retd), has been doing the rounds for months and it remains relevant today than ever. In the clip he criticised members of the National Assembly, saying they are a “bunch of clowns.” Yes, he said it and rightly too.

According to him, the federal lawmakers “are the most dishonourable people I knew in the world”. He was reacting with disgust at the viral video of the AjeKun Iya song by Senator Dino Melaye. He said, “My state cannot afford a governor, which is the truth of the matter. And my country cannot afford the number of the so-called people in the National Assembly. We cannot afford them. That is why they can be singing empty… Aje ku iya ni oje. Talking of Dino, he has flown out of the country and he is in the US, wonder if he is promoting his music or his rascality? Somehow, I don’t care.

Fingers in the cookie jar

The news that members of the panel investigating the suspended National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) boss received N19 million as sitting allowance – The panel received the money from the Treasury Single Account of the NHIS – The chairperson of the 21-member committee received N1.28 million as honorarium for committee IRO Investigation on NHIS. So how safe is it to make a cat guard the meat? So they are been paid more money for what they supposedly get paid handsomely for already. Double dipping is rampant in the hallow house and these greedy people don’t know when to stop.

And what is wrong with treasury doing to approve money for these hoodlums in fine clothing? The committee were paid N19,184,000 from NHIS’s Treasury Single Account (TSA). And the explanation is that it is “honorarium for committee IRO Investigation on NHIS”. The truth eventually is out and chairperson of the committee, Binta Bello, who is the immediate past permanent secretary for the ministry of health received N1.28 million while 13 directors of the committee were paid N960,000.

The ministry said the action is a criminal violation of the civil service rule. The official said: “What is most worrisome is the fact that money was paid out of the coffers of the NHIS which is essentially money from enrolees meant to pay for their medical care and that of their families.”

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