Girl child and the burden of invisible conventions

There is a growing reawakening across the world about the rights and health of the girl child and her place within her immediate environment, society and the world at large. This renewed advocacy is necessary in order to help give women the boldness to stand up for themselves in the face of unconventional rubrics and informal dictates.

More and more women are openly speaking up on cases of sexual assault and discrimination against them- a scenario which was hitherto characterised by a culture of silence and regarded as an “accepted evil” in places like Hollywood, Silicon Valley and other formal and informal establishments across the world.

In Nigeria, the fight for the rights of the girl child has recorded some fair outcomes over the last few years. However, a general assessment proves that her situation is still abysmal. Nigeria has over 10 million out-of-school children (highest in the world). Majority of them are girls.

Again, out of the over 4,000 victims of human trafficking in the last four years, 3,175 are females and a majority of them are from the Niger Delta region. More so, 40% of girls in Nigeria are married before the age of 18, which almost always puts a halt to their education and exposes them to a burdensome life at a tender age. At every stage of a woman’s life, she is being mired by what Laure Beaufils of the British High Commission recently described as “informal rules of the game that are often invisible”.

These informal rules of engagement often signpost women to the backwaters of flinching reticence, and make it difficult for them to reach their highest potential. It all begins from her home where the girl child is still being seen as an auxiliary gender. One researcher observes that “they are likely to have far less time available after school to study. They typically have to assume a multitude of household chores including cooking, cleaning and even serving as a principal caregiver for younger siblings.”

Their way to school may be risky, as some of them go through horrendous experience such as sexual harassment, mental and physical attacks which lead to some victims being badly injured in the process, and others contracting some sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, and even unwanted pregnancies, which most times makes them withdraw from school and stigmatizes them.

Right from a tender age, the girl child often finds them in downgrading situations such as molestation, rape, physical and vocal abuse, and other unflattering cultural practices such as genital mutilation which causes serious bleeding that could lead to death, and could cause uncontrollable discharge of urine, usually associated with vesicovaginal fistula. Even in school and places of work, they still encounter sexual harassment by their lecturers and bosses and even colleagues.  We must begin to speak very strongly against all of these evils against the girl child, so as to help checkmate other unbelievable cases that cannot be known unless we give our girls the power to speak up. Indeed, “talking is the first step to healing”.

However, even in the face of these psycho-social afflictions, the girl child possesses an unrivalled mental toughness that makes her self-motivated and an excellent organizer of resources. If well developed, rather than downgraded, the girl child holds the key that will help unlock development and unleash positive change within her sphere of influence. The popular saying that “when you develop a woman, you are developing a nation” is never more apt. However, what people do not know is that when you downgrade and intimidate a woman, you are inextricably crippling the potential of an entire nation.

We need to try and learn from other climes which have discovered early enough how important it is to treat women honourably. Though, it is still not perfect yet in these places, but Nigeria has a lot to learn from them on how they treat cases of girl child abuse.

We need to fortify our laws to foster a tradition of gender inclusion, right from the family level.  We must also treat cases of girl child abuse very seriously, which includes penalizing offenders, no matter which side of the social strata they belong.

Also, bad cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage should be vigorously checked due to the high cases of fatality, permanent injury and lasting psychological torture it places on their victims.

Lastly, we must take the education of the girl child very seriously in order to empower them so that they can in turn empower their children, and the entire nation.

Nsa, current GOLDEN FACE OF NIGER DELTA, is currently working on an advocacy programme for girls in the Niger Delta region

Source (The sun)