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Published On: Tue, Oct 15th, 2019

The Nigerian girl child and her emancipation

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By Emelife Uc

It is no gainsay that female subjugation has been a menace rocking our society as far back as the beginning of time. Females have been discriminated and relegated simply because of their gender. Negative labels like “weaker vessel” have been ascribed to the gender so much that some females have come to terms with it and feel inferior to their male counterparts. But the narrative is changing, women have found their voice, are harnessing it and the world is beginning to listen.
The theme of this year’s International Day of the girl child is: “Girlforce: Unscripted and Unstoppable” which in my opinion, captures precisely the reality of the girl child today. The potential of the female gender is something that has been proven umpteen times in the last two decades within and beyond our locale.
This is notwithstanding how the concept of gender equality is still very far from achieved but as it is rightly captured in the theme, this said potential thrives nonetheless limitlessly and unbound.
The girl child is beginning to aspire beyond misogynistic stereotypes put up by the society. Stereotypes that have for long dampened her voice and made her subservient to patriarchy. This is credit to girls’ movement over the years through literatures, films, conferences that have greatly influenced the gender and elevated her hopes. Today, girls are looking beyond the nuptial tie, and achieving dreams that were in the past only obtainable by their male counterparts. Today, girls want to be leaders of their respective organisations, communities and societies and eventually become; today, girls are the breadwinners of their respective homes. Today, girls get lead roles in films that talk about them, not portrayed as weaker vessels but painted in the same heroism as their male counterparts.
Literatures have lead female characters, not as emotionally driven and (unintellectual) or just domestic roles as most female characters are in the literatures of the past, but as witty and rational. So while we bemoan members of the society who loathe the idea of equality, it is only natural and fair to remark the girl generally as being indeed “Unscripted” and “Unstoppable”.
A milestone in the movement for the emancipation of the girl is the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China which had in attendance 30,000 men and women who were determined to see that women and girls’ rights are recognized as human rights.
According to the UN, “In the years following, women pressed this agenda forward, leading global movements on issues ranging from sexual and reproductive health rights to equal pay. More girls today are attending and completing school, fewer are getting married or becoming mothers while still children and more are gaining the skills they need to excel in the future world of work.”
However, this seeming success is apparently only relative to the West. In home, Africa especially Nigeria, the idea of equality sadly remains a fantasy. One can credit this to her (Nigeria) many inclinations: religion, tradition and the dogmatism of the followership. Those who frown at the idea of feminism or underappreciated girl power hide under the cloak of their various religious and traditional inclinations. Same inclinations whose doctrines they cherry pick to suit their boat.
Despite efforts made by NGOs and individuals, child marriage remains a malady that swells everyday in some parts of Nigeria. The girl child who is usually a victim of this, many times does not give consent before being forced into marriage. A marriage that will only succeed if she remains mum, and offers her voice, body to the one called husband. So instead of building a family, in which love is the crux of the union, she becomes a baby producing machine who doubles as a slave that does her master’s (husband) will.
Those who argue for child marriage say marriage doesn’t hamper education, they say she can still be enrolled in a school while being married, but how can one learn indubitably amidst the demands and responsibilities of an ‘African’ mother? Learning requires an environment devoid of distractions, and in the case of the girl, marriage is a distraction until she comes of age and has made something of herself.
It is really sad the statistics of how many girls end up in child marriages. A study by UNICEF and UNFPA in 2018 revealed that “more than one-third of girls in Nigeria end up in child marriages while 22 million of girls and women married before they clocked 18.” Our girls are better off in school, than in a marriage.
Beyond that, a country where there has never been a female head of government lacks the right kind of representation that can inspire logical aspirations of the girl child. The underrepresentation of women in Nigerian politics can be traced as far back as the colonial era. This is chiefly owed to patriarchy. It is somewhat ridiculous however because half of Nigeria’s population is women, and same women play an integral part in the society yet lack representation in politics. This is even after the 30% representative affirmative action advocated by the same Beijing World Conference on Women which the National Gender Policy (NGP) eventually recommended 35% affirmative action instead, all in a bid to see more women in politics. There remains however according to the National Bureau of Statistics, a measly representation of just 6.7 percent in elective and appointive positions, way below the Global Average of 22.5 percent.
Similarly, since the advent of democracy which is believed to be a system characterized by representation, there still hasn’t been a single female governor and other arms of government still experience dearth of females. In the house of representatives and Senate for example since 1999 till date, women constitute 5.6% and 6.5% of membership respectively. This is poor compared to what is obtainable in saner climes, and doesn’t even measure up to average.
Emelife Uc is a 200l student in Literature in English. He is as well a campus journalist, creative writer and a literary enthusiast.

The role representation has played in the emancipation of the girl can never be overemphasized. You’d seldom see a Nigerian girl today who aspires to be in politics. This is because of underrepresentation. She doesn’t see it happen and so lacks the zeal to pursue such dreams. You strive to be what you see. And what is imagined is more realistic when one has done it before.

Laws in Nigeria concerning the female gender also needs reform. The inconsistency of the law that spells out punishment for criminal acts against women and girls like rape and pedophilia needs to be smoothened and followed to the latter. Not minding the growing cases of these two inhumane acts, there have only been 11 persons convicted of these crimes. Rape and pedophilia are two evils that have posed great constraints to the exploits of the female gender, and humanity as a whole. And to provide a favourable society where our girls can feel safe and explore like their male counterparts, they must be stamped out.

Parents must learn also to train their children right. The family which is the basic unit of the society provides foundational education, and it is this education that sharpens the mindset of children. Parents, tell your girls that they can be anything they want to be so long as they put in the work required. Teach them to not slouch their shoulders or be intimidated by anybody not minding their gender. Remind them every day that they are queens, not kings because a queen is just as royal. But then, tell them to not feel too proud to learn or unlearn. Teach them to not in the process of proving themselves, hate the male gender.

Boys are not left out too. It after all takes two to tangle. If gender equality is to be achieved, our boys must know better. Parents, tell your boys that their sisters are not below them. Teach them that they deserve as much respect. Preach against chivalry because girls are not weak and so should not be given a special treatment. Make them see girls as equals, and so should not be underestimated.
Feminism is not the enemy. The girl child is a force to reckon with. She is unstoppable, unscripted and only natural to be treated as such.

Emelife Uc is a 200l student in Literature in English. He is as well a campus journalist, creative writer and a literary enthusiast.

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