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/