By Ja’ida Kata
An ageless adage says, “educate a woman (the girl-child), educate a nation.” This is a fact that the worst of pessimists would not deny. Contrary to popular belief that the girl-child illiteracy syndrome is mostly prevalent in the north it is pertinent to note that this is a Nigeria problem and by extension, a problem the world over.
While poverty is identified to be a leading cause of illiteracy, ironically, illiteracy has been fingered as the root cause of poverty in most Third World/developing countries. In most rural homes the girl-child contributes to being a family breadwinner at a very early age. Mallam Nura confirms that his daughters make more profits every day from hawking because people are more attracted to females who sell than they are to the male children. When asked about his male children, he proudly said “sun tafi makaranta” meaning “they have gone to school”. He quickly added that the boys needed the free education offered by the Kaduna State Government more than the girls because the girls will soon be married and their husbands will be responsible for their needs. This reasoning has been accepted not only amongst illiterates from the rural areas but also by some educated people in the urban areas. I remember back in school there were many girls whose dream was to finish school and get married to a rich man who will take over their responsibilities. Sometimes these girls ended up dropping out of schools because the zeal to read was overshadowed by the desire to get married from that young age. We could blame this on gender roles as the child grows up. The male children are taught to be focused and purpose driven from their young ages . They are constantly reminded of their responsibilities as men. The girl child on the hand is brought up looking forward to her wedding day. Typical greetings from aunties and neighbours goes thus “Allah ya nuna mana biki’n ki” meaning “may God show us your wedding day” (may we live to see your wedding day) as commendation whenever the girl child does something noteworthy, as a birthday wish or just as a good will. She grows up with the consciousness that she will grow up and get married and will be taken care of by a man and that is the end of her purpose here on earth. Talking to a group of teenage girls hawking groundnuts earlier in the year, I asked why they were not in school although education was free in Kaduna State. With their faces smeared with all colours of makeup they happily said they were hawking to generate money for the dowry of one of them.( possessions the bride takes to her new home) They added that it was a routine that helps each one of them that eventually gets married. Although it is still dangerous but if these girls were hawking to make up money for school books, uniforms or something pertaining to education which should be their concern at that young age, their future would be assured.
Mallam Nura was looking forward to his daughters being married as a solution to the many mouths he had to feed and hopefully their husbands will help with money and small gifts as well. His five daughters were between the ages of seven and fifteen years of age from one mother. The wife sat beside Mallam Nura lost in her thoughts. She had four boys besides the five girls and was heavily pregnant.
Mallam Sani is a renown tailor who has been in the business for decades. He is a proud father of four University Masters degree graduate boys earning their living from various offices. He trained his boys both in the formal and informal education. He explains that with the way he saw the world transforming years back, he knew they will definitely need both. Sadly, that is not the case with his daughters. They all learned to sew but they have no formal education. Mallam Sani explained that their husbands will worry about that. Two of his daughters were divorced and were back to the house with their children at the time of this interview.
The awareness created on the benefits of the girl-child education should have reached every nook and corner of our society and changed people’s mindsets but interactions with a few people from different geo-political zones of the country shows that so much more needs to be done. Amaka Obi from the east describes a similar ordeal female children face in her environment.
The girl – child is seen as a second class human who would soon be married off and have her surname changed to her husband’s, but the boy child will carry on with the legacy of the family name. Preference is given to the male children in most cases where the parents cannot afford to send all the children to school. One begins to wonder, how many would be female doctors, engineers, teachers, pilots, nurses, Architects, Scientists etc the nation has lost because they were never given that fundamental right to education. It is important to note that education goes beyond the four walls of a classroom. As it is said “Knowledge is power”. Education helps people to know their rights as human beings. It enables them to question happenings around them, proffer solutions and sometimes act as a catalyst to change.
Most illiterate women who have been subjected to domestic violence have no idea that their rights as humans beings have been violated and that they had better chances of taking themselves and their children out of that situation. Barr. Sweet Ideal is presently handling a pro-bono case of a young woman whose guardians have been abusing sexually for years and have instilled the fear of her dying if she ever spoke of it. This young woman and her likes out there suffer in silence because they have no idea of their rights as human beings and as women. Educating the girl-child will invariably avert most of the ills that afflict women to the barest minimum.
Other maladies that interfere with the development of the girl-child to her full potential include the following:
The issue of marriage should be delayed untill she finishes school. This gives her time to develop physically and psychologically as well.
When a girl gets pregnant while in school her life literarily stops. She is ridiculed and sent out of school. She is rejected by the boy responsible for the pregnancy. The boy goes on with his life and nothing happens to him. There must be laws to balance this. It is not enough to say that the girl is wayward the boy is irresponsible too.
When a young female child is made to hawk on the streets instead of being in school, she is exposed to a whole lot of danger which includes rape. Take these children off the streets and put them in school where the environment is safe and the issue of them being raped on the streets is averted.
All the issues discussed above come with health hazards. Early marriage teenage pregnancy and rape could result to the person being a VVF victim, an HIV/AIDS infested patient and could suffer from many more sexually transmitted diseases. The mortality rate of educated women is not as high as that of illiterate women. Educated women are learned on issues like proper diet and how well to take care of themselves in pregnancy. An educated woman will identify faster if her child has any problem or disability. Educated women plan their child spacing better than illiterate women and this can be achieved if the girl-child gets a sound education.
Drugs/ Prostitution/Gang Membership are all vices the girl child is exposed to outside the walls of the classroom. Girls are easy prey and can be used as bait for the recruitment of gang members. They are also easily recruited for drug trafficking.
Child trafficking is another hazard the girl child faces in recent times. Apart from the international market that is the ultimate for trafficking in children we should be concerned about the plights of the house helps in peoples’ houses around us. Many of these children are raped by the man of the house himself and thrown out if they speak out or get pregnant. Others drop out of school to take care of the children belonging to the families they serve. The condition given to their parents before they left home was that they would be registered in school.
There is no way we can get a lasting solution or remedy to the problems militating against the sustainable development of the girl child if we do not intensify the propagation of educating the girl-child. For a sustainable socio-economic development of the nation, issues that affect the girl-child must be taken most seriously. It is indeed heart breaking that in the entire northern states, it is only Kano State that has accepted the Child Rights Act. We hope that other states will emulate this noble gesture.
The importance of education and career guidance must be taught not just to the male children but the females today. Both growing males and females need to maintain their dignity and self respect and how they can add value to their society and the nation.
The girl children need to know they too can leave their footprints on the sands of time and be better than the women before them.
Point them to heroes and achievers such as the late Dora Akunnyili, Amina Mohammed of the UN, etc. Today we live in a world where women worthy of mention keep shattering the glass ceiling . They could be one of them.
Girl-child education is not just a “female” problem, it affects the male as well. Mothers spend more time with their children, both males and females. An educated mother would more likely push her children to succeed better than the illiterate mother would. This naturally creates a disparity between children raised by educated mothers and those raised by illiterate mothers. Most educated women are career specialists who earn a living and do help with the home finances. This eases the burden for the man who may have to cater for not just his immediate family but the extended family as well.
When we agitate for the girl-child education it is for the good of the society. Education unlocks a whole lot more than meets the eyes. It is the inexhaustible fountain we will always point to the future generations.
Ja’ida wrote in from Kaduna