Transforming the World from the Inside Out: My Voice Birthing Girls Voices

Carolyn Seaman
Posted April 8, 2016 from Nigeria
Carolyn and the girls from Galadimawa community at a film shoot
The girls and I are excitedly chanting 'Take Me Back To School' which is the title of a documentary film we produced profiling real-lived stories of girls education experiences.

While growing up, I never believed that my voice counted for anything. I would never speak even though I used all my quiet time to think up my ideas and share them to myself in my head. On occasions where I just listened in to conversations, I would fit my ideas into the conversation [in my head] and then think to myself what the possible reactions may be. But, I never said anything out. I was the type of girl who would blab about my ideas and my opinions when they no longer matter and to people who are unable to influence the status quo or make proper use if my shared ideas or opinions.

Choosing my career was a very challenging experience growing up. My parents always felt they knew what was best for me and I knew nothing at all. But they never gave me the opportunity to believe in myself and learn to take decisions and take responsibility for same. My choice of friends never worked with my parents, neither was my style of fashion. Nothing I did seemed correct with them. In my primary school days, I was inspired by my school teacher to participate in a particular traditional dance and she thought I was one of the best dancers and she made me the leader of the dance. But, on the day I was going to stage the dance at the School's year-end concert, my mother said I could not attend the function because she did not approve of my participation in the school dance. It broke me because I could not conceive why that was only coming when I was going to take my chance at leadership. Again, she prevented me from participating in the dance during the School's Speech and Prize Giving Day. This was going to be the beginning of many opportunities I would never engage because I felt I did not deserve it or I was not the type of girl who made a mark. I grew up trying to challenge these barriers to find myself and live for myself.

This is the challenge of many girls across Nigeria. They are told their voices are not heard. The popular saying is, 'Girls are to be seen, but not heard'. And many parents uphold these archaic beliefs and use cultural and religious beliefs to silence girls and force them into the woman they have dreamed for them to be. While it is not out of order for parents to have dreams for their children, I believe that parents need to be open to encourage their children to find themselves and have their own dreams for themselves.

While I was at the University, my parents still had not begun approving my friendships [both girlfriends and boyfriends]. And even after I graduated from the University and wanted to get married to my College sweetheart, my parents won't hear of it. I wanted to get a job in the capital city and discover the world outside my birth place but my parents barely approved it because I forced myself out and sought out a job which turned out to be a job in the development sector. I was studying to be a gender specialist and it did not start out with a good salary package and again, my parents advised me to start looking for another job. My life has truly been one big struggle to affirm my voice and realize my dreams for myself. I did relocate to the capital city, build my experience as a gender specialist and I married my College sweetheart. But, these have come with such great trials and challenges. And I think to myself, 'How many girls can endure this long to find their voices"? How many girls find the strength to fight to make their voices count?

Today, some 1.5 million Nigerian children aged 6-14 are currently not in school. And girls' dropout rates are high with children that are in school. 70.8% of young women aged 20-29 in North-West Nigeria are unable to read or write because of several reasons including early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation, shortage of female teachers and other similar reasons[1]. And these are issues that can be traced back to silencing the voice of the girls because these same conditions exist for boys and girls in the school. But, the girls are often worst hit and parents are often at the heart of the decision to pull the girls out of school and get them married. When girls are married off at such tender age, they are unable to build their voice and so their husbands continue to suppress their voices and they end up bearing children at their tender age. 47% of Nigerian women are mothers before they reach 20[2]. And this is not without its own consequences. Nationally, the maternal mortality rate is 545 deaths per 100,000 live births, nearly double the global average. In the rural North-East region, it is 1,549 - over five times that average[3].

Suppressing girls voices leaves girls silenced and closed-in with no sense of esteem or prestige. And this largely influences Nigeria's potential to produce women who are empowered to engage the labour market or decision-making positions. Nigeria's House of Representatives has only 1 female principal officer. However, only 24 (7%) of the 362 members are women[4].

While 60-79% of the rural work force is women, men remain five times more likely to own land[5]. And up to one-third of Nigerian women report that they have been subjected to some form of violence. One in five has experienced physical violence. So, it seems that women have been set-up for poverty and victimization because they are on the receiving end of the rising income inequality, lack of political participation and violence against women and girls. And I believe that these issues are ingrained in the women from their childhood - from their girlhood - when they are told to keep silent and bear anything that people or life brings their way. And the culture of silence continues to keep girls and women vulnerable and disadvantaged.

I had my share of my voice being silent for many years, but I got an education and I got an opportunity to study gender issues and work on several gender projects addressing women and girls' issues. I joined physical and online communities of women who have encouraged me to share my voice and share my story. I now run a non-profit, Girls Voices initiative, that provides basic life and social survival skills, digital and financial literacy skills, advocacy and citizen journalism skills to adolescent girls in Nigeria. Also, we provide a platform that enables girls to share their stories and inspire other girls. And we use digital media to amplify their voices and empower the girls to have a positive impact in their communities. I have been transformed from my inside out and I am using my voice to inspire girls' voices and I use digital media to amplify their voices and empower girls to be women making an impact in tomorrow's world.

[1] Gender in Nigeria Report 2012: Improving the Lives of Girls and Women in Nigeria. A British Council Report

[2] Gender in Nigeria Report 2012: Improving the Lives of Girls and Women in Nigeria. A British Council Report

[3] Gender in Nigeria Report 2012: Improving the Lives of Girls and Women in Nigeria. A British Council Report

[4] http://www.premiumtimesng.com/features-and-interviews/179136-analysis-20...

[5] Gender in Nigeria Report 2012: Improving the Lives of Girls and Women in Nigeria. A British Council Report

Transforming the World from the Inside Out

Comments 8

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helen.ng
Apr 10, 2016
Apr 10, 2016

Hello Carolyn,

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It was heartbreaking to read how you could not voice your own concerns for a majority of your childhood. It's so inspirational and empowering to read how you developed (and are still developing) through life as an individual - how you are now able to stand up for yourself and others. And now, not only are you helping voice for other women and girls around the world, you are doing this on many online communities, amplifying awareness on the subject.

I completely agree with you in that parents should come to understand that they might not always know what is best for their children. It will definitely be difficult to eliminate the ancient barriers involving the affirmation that parents have surrounding their children, especially inhibiting the freedom of many girls around the world, especially in Nigeria. 

Congratulations on your successes, especially those revolving around the initiative you run. You are truly an inspiration and a hero to individuals around the world, including myself. I hope all individuals soon come to share your strong desire and vision for a better, safer world. I hope to hear more about your work in the near future.

With love,

Helen Ng

Carolyn Seaman
Apr 19, 2016
Apr 19, 2016

Dear Helen,

Thank you for reading my story and sharing my thoughts. While parents need to guide and support their children from an early age, they also need to be careful not to limit their children's potential in the process. 

I look how far I have come today and wonder how limited I may have been if I did not enjoy the opportunities that exposed me to the knowledge I have today and how I am now using my voice to identify and build the voices of other girls and women in my community.

I truly appreciate your kind words and all the encouragement you have shared with me. 

Warm regards,

Carrie Lee
Apr 11, 2016
Apr 11, 2016

Dear Carolyn,

Your voice is so powerful!  I am inspired and feel our kindred spirit...Using the oppression of your voice as an opportunity to truly find and value your unique voice- a voice that the world needs to hear!  

What wonderful, world-changing work you are doing now, supporting young girls - the next voices who will help bring balance to our world!  Thank you.

Warmly,

Carrie

Carolyn Seaman
Apr 19, 2016
Apr 19, 2016

Dear Carrie,

Thank you for your kind words. Your powerful expression really uplifted me.

I totally align with your belief that young girls are the next voices to help bring balance to our world. That is what keeps me constantly fuelled and pumped to keep doing what I am doing to build girls voices to build them to make a positive impact in their communities. That's a good difference the world needs today!

Once again, I appreciate how you have shared in my journey. Your words have been empowering!

Many thanks,

Julie Collura
Apr 24, 2016
Apr 24, 2016

Carolyn,

Thank you for sharing your story and continuing to use your voice to encourage other girls. You are an inspiration!

Best wishes,

Julie

Carolyn Seaman
Apr 25, 2016
Apr 25, 2016

Hi Julie,

Thank you for reading my story and sharing your kind words. I am very passionate about encouraging other girls and you inspire me to continue to be an inspiration. 

Truly appreciate your sweet comments.

In warmth and love,

Terry Mullins
Jun 08, 2016
Jun 08, 2016

Hello Carolyn!! Thank you so much for sharing your story with World Pulse. My heart ached when I read about the dance you were not able to perform. Sometimes, we parents make decisions that we think are best for our children, but in truth, we end up hurting them. I felt your pride and confidence in being chosen the leader of the dance and then felt your heartbreak at not being able to perform. It crushed you, but you went on to persevere! I am in awe!!! You were able to find your voice, to make your decisions based on what YOU needed and you have now provided a platform ( Girls Voices) for other girls and women to do the same. 

In love and peace,

Terry Mullins

Carolyn Seaman
Jun 23, 2016
Jun 23, 2016

Hi Terry!

I am so excited to read your comments to my post. In sharing this story, I wanted to trace my transformation of the world from inside out. That was a very emotional experience in my childhood and I loved that you found my story relatable. You have touched me with your warm comments and I am inspired to do more to empower girls and women in my community.

Love

Carolyn Seaman