Blog post by Dr Zibah Nwako, School of Education, University of Bristol
Today, 11th October 2022, is the International Day of the Girl Child.
Decades ago, girls had few rights in society and vague futures to look forward to. As time passed and with the advancement of women’s rights, it became clear that girls deserve equal chances in life as boys. We now know that the girl child should have the same rights to education, a successful future, a lifetime free from violence and discrimination, and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. To an extent, these rights are being protected. Many girls, particularly those born in African patriarchal societies, have been able to access education.
Education is synonymous to empowerment as when the mind is fed, it is enlightened and transformed.
As this enlightenment increases, we hope to see generations of girls who have the freedoms that they need to grow into strong women. However, there is still a lot of work to be done and our hope for girls’ futures is not without questions.
Do girls have a strong support system at home? In society?
How has the girl child been encouraged to dream and achieve their own desires?
Are girls free and able to deviate from the expectations of their parents and guardians?
Isn’t the saying all too familiar – “A woman, with all her success, can NEVER be complete without a husband”?
The future that a girl is taught to aspire to, has a lot to do with fulfilling societal obligations rather than hers. She is taught to dream a little, but not big enough to intimidate others. She is taught to aim high, but not too high so that she is not disappointed. At the very least, she is encouraged to make something of her life, but reminded that she may have to drop that achievement to care for her family – a sacrifice that only she usually has to make!
And she must wonder, “Where do I fit into my OWN life?”
Being a girl also has the challenges of watching her body change as she grows older, forming her own identity, some experiencing menstruation for the first time and having no one to share this new encounter with. How do they then understand these changes, when it’s seen as a taboo to mention certain parts of their bodies? Few African mothers are able to teach their daughter about her developing body, what to expect from it and how to keep it safe.
Who advocates for the girls that wander the streets, empty and forlorn, looking for the support that she does not receive at home?
And if these are not enough struggles for the girl child, what about having to make extra efforts to prove she can achieve whatever she sets out to do? Why does her intelligence come as a surprise to others? How do we build generations of girls with less scars and more voice?
On a more positive note…
…at least we are not where we used to be. We have started observing girls that are quickly and silently, according to Michelle Obama, “becoming”. Girls with big dreams, big hearts, and big confidence in their own identities. Girls whose voices echo the theme of this today occasion:
Read what two such girls had to say when asked the same questions. The following answers are from Aliyah Isa and Amenze Owuna respectively:
What do you love most about being a girl?
The fact that I’m allowed to cry. Basically, boys aren’t and that’s why they hardly do it.
I can multitask and accomplish so many things within a little time. For example, I can be girly, dress up, be a homemaker, be silly but also serious, and have a successful academic and social life.
What is your girl superpower?
I think it’s the ability to fix stuff – all those electronic equipment and the stuff related to the decoder.
My competitiveness. Being competitive has helped prove to everyone and myself that I can do anything that I set my mind to. And it has helped me accomplish so much.
In the next five or ten years, where do you see yourself?
In the next ten years, I see myself in the happy ending I’ve been praying for – a good life, happily married or independent, while doing my best at a job I love!
In five years, I see myself in medical school, working hard to be a successful Paediatric-Psychiatrist.
What would you say to encourage other young girls like you?
They should never give up, be strong, keep chasing their dreams and never let people bad-mouth them no matter what. Most especially, they should learn to stand up for themselves.
Never dream of success, work for it!
Today and every day, let’s celebrate Aliyah, Amenze and every single girl child!
Whether she is your daughter, granddaughter, niece, neighbour, student, carer – your girl needs all the push she can get to forge ahead. She needs to be taught that she is unique. She needs to believe that being a girl is a gift.
Let’s allow girls to dream and to celebrate each little win. Let’s provide them with all they need to grow and learn in fairness and equity. Let’s give them better experiences, help them to navigate life’s many challenges, and to plan for sustainable futures. Let’s encourage them to embrace their talents, skills, abilities and even their emotions.
They are today’s and tomorrow’s GAME CHANGERS. Teach them their rights. Protect them from harm.
Finally, to YOU, our brilliant and beautiful girls – you are valued and you are loved.
Happy International Day of the Girl Child!
Huge thanks to the Aliyah Isa and Amenze Owuna for kindly providing their answers during our interactions.
If you fancy reading another post commemorates this day, here’s one on International Day of the Girl 2020.
The featured image is from Kindred Hues Photography on Unsplash.