The Frontlines of My Life: Creative Solutions to Girls Education in my Community

Carolyn Seaman
Posted February 29, 2016 from Nigeria
Girl writing her dreams on the blackboard
A star actress in the documentary film, 'Take Me Back To School'; she writes her dreams for the future on the blackboard.
Filming a scene at LEA Primary School, Wuye. Abuja-Nigeria
Filming a scene at LEA Primary School, Wuye. Abuja-Nigeria: A scene on a school assembly. The picture was taken during the filming of documentary, 'Take Me Back To School'. (1/3)

It's the first day of school! And I am excited about resuming school this time. I think I look stunning in my white long-sleeve shirt tucked into my navy blue skirt. Then, I get to wear a neck tie because I am now a senior secondary school student. In school, there is great hysteria on my block as we frantically race from class to class figuring out our new class and anxious to learn what new subjects we would take as senior students. Of course, the girls are looking out for the best school fashion. And that was where I noticed Hadiza was not in school. Who would miss resumption on such an important day? I was curious about Hadiza because she was a very neat student who always looked good in her uniform. I imagined how stunning she would look in her senior secondary school uniform; But, she was nowhere to be found - 2 weeks became 1 month. And I started to ask around until I learnt that Hadiza got married as the third wife to an Alhaji who was about her fathers' age. I was shocked! I could not imagine being married at the time and worse, a third wife? Education was natural in my immediate community in the University Staff Quarters where I was raised, But Hadiza lived in a neighbouring community apparently driven by poor value for education.

It's been over 20 years since this experience, yet poor enrolment, completion and retention of girls in school is still a prevalent issue in Nigeria, particularly across northern Nigeria where religious (Islam) or cultural practices promote the marriage of girls as early as 9 years old. Some believe that a girl must not experience her first menstruation in her father's house. And other cultural beliefs measure the esteem/pride of a father by how young his daughter gets married implying he raised a good girl. Such practices promote early marriage which invariably puts girls out of school and institutionalizes gender inequality.

Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world with some 1.5 million children aged 6-14 currently not in school[i]. In Nigeria, 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. 17% are married before they turn 15[ii]. And each year, 15 million girls around the world are married off before the age of 18; That is 28 girls every passing minute!

As the child of a professor and teacher, education was essential. So, I concluded a law degree and took up a job in the development sector and took interest working to promote women's political participation. However, my work experience has exposed many deep-rooted issues affecting women in my community and I believe that the lack of basic education stands out (Hadiza's experience never left me). As the major obstacle I want to overcome in my community, I run a non-profit aimed at building girls voices, providing a platform for girls voices to connect and amplifying girls voices (using film and other digital media) so that their voices count in various spheres. And education is a strong foundation for building girls voices.We use storytelling, discussion, teaching, training and research methods; facilitating learning and acquisition of skills, values and beliefs among girls, communities and across the world. Our approach focuses on raising community and global awareness, through film and skill-based training. And we start with the girls whose stories are told.

Our approach is unique for its immediate impact amplifying girls' voices using digital media and its exponential impact letting the girls know their voices were heard and providing basic skills that empower them to empower other girls. We have engaged a number of projects producing short videos and documentaries sharing girls stories and amplifying girls voices to inspire social change in people's perceptions and behavioral attitudes towards girls and gender equality.

My Nigeriais a beautiful country endowed with abundant mineral resources and such huge potential for development. But, gender inequality excludes women from active involvement in national development. And I hope to change this by promoting girls education to empower girls and women to actively engage development processes.

[i] Gender in Nigeria Report, 2012 Improving the Lives of Girls and Women in Nigeria. British Council Nigeria, 2012.

[ii] Child Marriage in Nigeria by Girls Not Brides http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/nigeria/

Comments 19

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Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Mar 01, 2016
Mar 01, 2016

Hi Carolyn,

This is a great peice. It is a pity that such that early child marriages is still being practised in NIgeria. Am sure with the effort from you and many young vibrant women there will be more women enaging in politics and women emperment. Thank you for sharing and i pray that you achieve your hope and vision. Stay blessed.

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 02, 2016
Mar 02, 2016

Hello Anita,

Thank you for your kind words and for such great encouragement. I also believe in women's potential to make a positive difference in politics and to empower their fellow women. And that is why I am devoted to building girls at an early age; when we build girls at an early age, they are empowered to empower others and actively engage the development of their community as women.

Once again, thank you for your encouraging words.

Warm regards,

Stephanie Auxier
Mar 01, 2016
Mar 01, 2016

Hi Carolyn,

It is shocking to learn that girls as young as 9 years old are being married off, and I was very sad to read the statistics you included about how many girls are married before the age of 18, both in Nigeria and around the world. I have learned about several cultural beliefs that influence early marriage, but was unaware of the belief that marrying a daughter so young signifies having raised a good girl and gives pride to fathers.

The work you are doing is so important, and I agree that educating girls is an important first step towards women's empowerment. When I think back to when I was 9 years old, I really can't imagine what it would have been like to be married. Thanks for sharing your work with us, I am eager to learn more!

Warmly,

Stephanie

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 02, 2016
Mar 02, 2016

Hi Stephanie,

It's so great to hear from you. Girls are still married off at very tender ages, particularly in northern Nigeria. You would really be surprised at the 'silly' cultural beliefs and stereotypes that continue to expose girls to the ills of early marriage, early childbirth, poor access to education and other negative realities that result in the high demography of women that are illiterate, lack self esteem and empowerment to actively engage in the development of their communities. 

Some believe that the girls are better off married at an early age so that they do not become 'loose' or immoral and fall pregnant which would bring shame and dishonour to her family. Again, some belief that girls who are not married off early and educated instead would not get a suitor eventually because she would be considered 'over-educated' and 'uncontrollable' which are not virtues of a good wife. These are some misconceptions we have to deal with when we are advocating for girls education before marriage. Then, there are also situations where the girl is considered the solution to poverty in the family whereas the dowry and gifts from the husband is used to pay her brother's  school fees or to purchase other things needed for the family.

In cases where the girls are married as early as 9 years old, the practice is for the marriage obligations to be completed by both families. But, the girl remains in her father's house until she is about 12-13 years old and she is moved to her husband's home.

I think back to when I was 9 too and I definitely could not survive any marriage because I was so little and so naive about things like that. I am so passionate about incorporating new and creative ways to communicate these issues and mobilize public concern for issues affecting girls. And I hope that people would be more sensitive to girls needs and let girls voices count. 

Thank you so much for your interaction with my vision for change and thank you and the World Pulse team for this great learning platform to further develop, focus and nurture our vision for change.

Warm regards,

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Mar 02, 2016
Mar 02, 2016

Hi great change maker, Cultural norms and beliefs are a great set back to African development. I read your post with kin interest because it does not only expose the ills African girls suffer from the barbaric custom but also highlights the root cause of our problems which is ignorance. How, for instance, could marrying off a child who can barely take a proper bath be considered as pride of having good upbringing?

I really appreciate the good work you are doing in Nigeria. One thing I will like to know from you is how to get the victims speak because I have another issue in my community I am handling with girls but most victims don't speak up. I love your videos on this issue

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 02, 2016
Mar 02, 2016

Hello Sister,

Thank you for engaging my post with such interest. And thank you for your kind words regarding my work.

Indeed, getting victims to speak about their experiences is quite challenging due to several dynamics within our African context. And your strategy would depend on the issue your are addressing and the demography of victims you need to engage. In my case, I get the girls comfortable by first sharing similar experiences from my life where they exist or I share similar experiences they can relate to so that they are comfortable and find common ground to add their voice. Also, I guarantee them that our conversation is secure and would not expose them to backlash in their community. And where I am producing a documentary about the subject, I share the concept and purpose of the documentary in simple terms they can understand. For example, 'we are going to write about your story in our report or put your story in a film that can be watched on TV and your story would be read by many people and we hope that your experience would help other girls not experience the same thing or know what to do when they experience a similar situation'. This way, you are making the victim feel an active part of your work and sees the added or shared-value their story presents to a large audience. Then, you also want to provide incentives that protects their identity or prevents them from exposure to more harm e.g. change their names with pseudo names or hide their faces in the case of film. In the example of the documentary I shared here, the voices telling the stories are the real girls who are encountering the experiences shared, but the girls you see depicting the stories are actors who consented to play the roles and protect the identity of the real girls. And this was important because we were screening the documentary in the communities of the girls to strengthen our advocacy intervention and we did not want to expose the girls to backlash after the project is completed in their community. Knowing their identities were secure made the girls relaxed to share their experiences.

We can still walk through this together if you need additional ideas around encouraging victims to speak out.

It's so great to connect again here. What a great learning experience for us at this time? The experiences shared are truly educating. And thank you for all your warm compliments.

Warm regards,

Maria Pena
Mar 02, 2016
Mar 02, 2016

Dear Carolyn,

It is heartbreaking to hear about the reality these girls are facing.

I admire you for the work you are doing, I also do believe that education is key. Thank you for sharing your story and let me know how I can support you to accomplish your vision for change.

All the best,

Maria

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 02, 2016
Mar 02, 2016

Dear Maria,

I am so pleased to connect with you and thank you for your kind words.

Thank you for sharing in the challenges girls are facing in my country. And to think that this is just one broad issue - I am not able to take on their health issues, the endemic poverty they suffer and other social issues that are challenging for them.

I agree that education is key to addressing a number of these issues or minimizing the effect at the least.

Thank you, too, for reading my story and I would definitely take you up on your offer to support. Please, let me know which area you are best comfortable to support?

I look forward to knowing you more and also to learn about your work too.

Warm regards,

Maria Pena
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

Dear Carolyn,

Thank you again for the work you do. I would love and be honored to work with you.

I am currently developing a crowfunding website for social projects. The website will also sell things from local artisans and part of the sale will go to fund the projects.

I would like to work with you in developing a project to crowdfund for your organization.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Best,

Maria

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 06, 2016
Mar 06, 2016

Dear Maria,

Thank you for responding. It's great to hear from you again. 

And I am humbled by your interest to work with us. I love the idea of your crowdfunding site and I would love to share some of our projects on that platform. Funding is definitely a big issue with our work and thank you for providing such creative platform that can benefit laudable projects. 

I have sent you a friend request so we can further link up to discuss the project to crowdfunding.

Once again, thank you for actively interacting with my story and thank you for such a fantastic creative platform to crowdfund for our projects.

Warm regards,

ARREY- ECHI
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

This is an engaging piece that shows how cultural norms are a great hindrance to the development of a community at large and women in particular. Reading your post shows how much we share in our countries with our Northern Communities. In Cameroon, Young girls are also married off and while this is changing as more fathers are sending their girl children to schoo, many more are still being married off. I cannot begin to imagine myself being told at 9years that I will soon be moving into a husband's wife! I didn't know the custom of marrying girls off was considered a pride to the father. Wishing you all the best as you embark on this important work of bringing change.

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 06, 2016
Mar 06, 2016

Dear Arrey, 

It's so great to hear from you. And thank you for your kind words. It's interesting how this Platform allows us share and identify the similarities between the development issues affecting the African Continent, particularly the issue of early child marriages that are prevalent across Northern communities in many parts of Africa.

It's crazy to think of being married off at the age of 9. But, another humbling thought tells me that was simply a function of the family and the kind of culture we were born into. That made all of the difference! Else, the story would have been completely different if we ended up in any typical home in those northern communities.

Once again, thank you for your encouraging words after taking the time to engage with my story. 

Warm regards,

GetRude
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

Hi Carolyn i just cant take the image of Hadiza from my mind. Your create such powerful imagery with how you right, it is easy to get a clear picture of the situation in Nigeria. All the best in changing those monster cultural norms. #GirlsNotBrides

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 06, 2016
Mar 06, 2016

Hi There,

Thank you for engaging with my story. And I see you enjoyed the ride following the images that made that moment in my life such an unforgettable experience. I am so glad I got a chance to channel my energies from that experience into a program that can challenge and transform the issue of early marriage of girls.

And you are very right when you say, 'monster cultural norms'. It is mind blowing that they are really norms for so many girls across the African Continent and globally. I am very committed to challenging this status quo. And I am glad I have warm Sisters like yourself cheering me on. Thank you once again.

Your name 'GetRude' certainly leaves me curious to learn the story behind it. 

Warm regards,

Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
GetRude
Mar 06, 2016
Mar 06, 2016

Hi Caroline, we will definitely catch up and i will tell you all about GetRude :)

All the best

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 11, 2016
Mar 11, 2016

Great! Looking forward to our catch up then.

Warm regards,

Kadidia Doumbia
Mar 14, 2016
Mar 14, 2016

Dear Carolyn,

I like the way you dream for those girls who many times can't do it because of various social and economic circumstances.

Women's rights seem to be something that people speak about like a movie they just watched but on the ground nothing is really happening. You are absolutely right, education is the key.

Dreaming and taking action is the way to go to empower girls and women. I wish more women in your position will dream and take action the way you do it so that we may have hope for fairness in gender issues.

Worldpulse will always be a support to your actions. Knowing that it is a lifetime battle, make sure to never be discouraged.

Good luck and thank you for all these girls you're helping.

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 17, 2016
Mar 17, 2016

Dear Kadidia,

Thank you for taking the time to read my story and share your thoughts. I truly appreciate your kind words and I am encouraged that you agree with my position to focus on educating and empowering girls. 

There are pockets of initiatives going on, but the approach is not innovative and dynamic and so very little change is recorded. Our approach is dynamic, innovative and creative and we believe that our progress would inspire other local initiatives and inject innovation into interventions directed at empowering girls.

Once again, thank you for your kind words and inspiration.

Warm regards,