HACEY Health Initiative, a non-governmental organization based in Lagos Nigeria, pledged its solidarity towards the education, empowerment and promotion of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of the girl-child when it launched the Hands Up for Her campaign during its first annual international day of the girl-child celebration on October 11th 2012.
Ms. Rhoda Robinson, the Initiator and Co-ordinator of the Hands Up For Her Campaign, discovered from her extensive work on the rights of the girl-child in Nigeria and abroad, that tackling the challenges Girls especially in Africa face required a holistic approach - Accessible and Affordable Healthcare, Economic empowerment and Education. As a consequence, she started the campaign to create an enabling environment for the African Girl to lead a healthy and productive life, thereby building her community and the world.
This year’s celebration was held on the 10th of October at the main auditorium of the University of Lagos.
The theme:” Education as a catalyst in Promoting the Health, Empowerment and Right of the Girl Child,” aptly captured the program lined up for the day. With hundreds of secondary school students, members of the civil society, Human and Girls rights advocates, fellows of the Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative, media personnel and the public in attendance.
Speakers included Dr Olufemi Olaleye (MD/CEO of Optimal HealthCare (Nig), Wish for Africa (UK); and Optimal Cancer Care Foundation). Dr Joe Okei - Odumakin ( president, Women Arise). Mrs A.K Musa (Representing the Lagos State Commissioner for Education). Dr Duze Yetunde (Representing Dr Uwem Essiet, the Executive Director of Action Health Incorporated) and Ms. Yemisi Ransom-Kuti (a Civil Society Advisor to the World Bank; Founder, Girl Watch and Nigeria Network of NGOs).
Ms. Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, while conversing with the teenage girls, reaffirmed her unwavering belief in the potentials of the girl-child albeit religious, cultural and societal barriers.
She made every girl in attendance pledge and repeat the words “Yes! I Will!” when asked if they will be brave enough to follow their hearts and dreams towards acquiring education at all levels.
Dr Olufemi Olayeye, stressed the importance of girls and women taking their health and well-being seriously.
One way of doing this is, he said, is for women who are sexually active to ensure they have cervical cancer screening at least bi-annually. He went on to announce that as part of his commitment towards promoting the health of girls and women, his centre provides free cervical cancer screening every Friday! This announcement was received with loud clapping and chants of words of gratitude from the audience.
Popularly known and acclaimed for her fierce advocacy for the rights and inclusivity of women both in Nigeria and abroad, Dr Joe Okei – Odumakin spoke plainly, when she challenged the Nigerian lawmakers to espionge the clause that provides a leeway for girl-child marriage in the Nigerian constitution. She opined that child marriage works against the achievement and realisation of the millennium development goals (MDGs) on education and the rights of girls and women.
She closed her speech with a solemn call for the uniting of all Nigerians in tackling the hydra-headed problems currently confronting the nation.
There were also drama presentations by students from different participatory schools, which added colour and contributed greatly to the theme.
Nweke Florence, a 13-year-old student from Ijero Junior Girls High School had this to say about the event: “I am very excited to be here. I have leant a lot on the importance of girl-child education, I cannot wait to share what I have leant with my family and friends.”
There was sadness in her face as she answered “Yes” when I asked her if she has friends who were not in school. However, her young face suddenly lit up when I asked her what she intends to do about it. She answered, “I will not only talk to them, i will also talk to their parents on the importance of educating girls. Come to think of it, education is free in Lagos state, so there is really no excuse!”
Not only did this year’s international day of the girl-child celebration hosted by HACEY Health Initiative spotlight the importance of girl-child education and empowerment, it potentially made an advocate for girl-child education of every girl present!
The International Day of the Girl-Child was first celebrated in 2012, following a declaration by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 19th of December 2011 appointing the 11th of October as the day of the Girl-Child.
To this effect, it encourages States, organizations and the Civil Society to commemorate this day yearly as a sign of solidarity for the girl-child by providing more opportunities for her to succeed, while sharing innovative ideas for solving some of the problems confronting girls and women the world over. Namely; gender based violence and gender inequality, child marriage, poverty and illiteracy, unemployment amongst many others.