October 11 is recognized globally as International Day of the Girl Child. It is an international observance day declared by the United Nations. It is also called the Day of the Girl and the International Day of the Girl. October 11, 2012, was the first Day of the Girl. The observation supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide based upon their gender. This inequality includes areas such as right to education/access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence against women and unfree child marriage.
By the way, when will it be the turn of Boy Child? Why the discrimination against the boys? Or, what is it about the girl-child that has to be isolated and be made to feel inadequate, hence, the need for special protection and celebration?
Interestingly, it is the same people who shouted and complained the most about girl-child discrimination, who are the major problem of the girl-child from cradle to adulthood, that is, the women themselves. What do you make of a mother-in-law or a sister-in-law who despises the birth of a baby girl and makes cynical remarks about the bundle of joy that is the prayer of many who are waiting to be blessed with the fruit of the womb? One begin to wonder which of the sexes can be produced by this complainant who just choose to be ungrateful!
Many have had to welcome another bride for failure to ‘produce’ a son, many kept ‘producing unlimited’ until they had a son. For others, even where the man celebrates and is satisfied with the birth of girls, other women harass the woman to continue the ‘production.’
For some, this has led to divorce especially where the family resource is stretched as a result. Sad to say, some are compelled to sign up for abortion and in worst case scenario, abortion is suggested and induced without the knowledge of the woman once scan reveals feminine features.
I remember a sister once telling me of how her father walked out of the hospital angrily after she was born. He did not visit his wife again until she came home with the baby. He was so upset that his first child was a boy.
The virtues of having sons is completely different from the virtues of having girls, there are so different that there isn’t even a comparison. We should all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals.
They are both blessings. We fail to understand that boys and girls are two sides of the same coin—a girl is as much a part of the society as is a boy. They are both the futures of tomorrow. They both need to be given equal opportunities for the wholesome growth of the nation. Women should be treated as equals, not sequels.
In the majority of the world, women are still seen as second-class citizens, and young women and girls particularly so; the property of their fathers until they are married and of their husbands after they have tied the knot. The more patriarchal a society, the more sons are preferred. One report notes that: ‘While a number of national and international legal norms protect the rights of the girl child in theory, in practice cultural and social beliefs about gender and the value of girls and boys have been much more difficult to overcome… By age five, most girls and boys have already internalized the gender role expectations communicated to them by their families, schools, the media and society as a whole, and these norms will influence their behaviour and their development for the rest of their lives. Perhaps this is not surprising. These attitudes go back a long way – one verse from the Chinese Book of Songs, written 3,000 years ago, says:
When a son is born,
Let him sleep on the bed,
Clothe him with fine clothes,
And give him jade to play…
When a daughter is born,
Let her sleep on the ground,
Wrap her in common wrappings,
And give broken tiles to play…’
In many countries today, the birth of a boy is still something to be celebrated and the birth of a girl a cause for commiseration. This can have serious consequences for their human rights, sometimes, paradoxically, assisted by advances in technology. Although it is often technically illegal, families that prefer to have male children are able to abort their female foetuses now that technology can tell them the sex of their unborn child. In Asia, at least 60 million women are missing due to sex-selective abortion and the practice of killing or abandoning girl babies. Once they are born, girl babies are likely to be fed less than their brothers when food is short, leading to a permanent cycle of anaemia and under-nourishment. They are also less likely to go to school. As a result, 62 per cent of lliterates between the ages of 15 and 24 are young women. And this despite the fact that research has shown that an educated woman not only has a better chance of earning an income, but is more likely to keep her children healthy and send them to school. As they grow up, many young women find they cannot choose when they have sex, or who they have it with, or under what conditions. More than 70,000 teenage girls, some as young as 10, are married every day, and 14 million girls under 18 are already mothers. As a result of giving birth before their bodies have finished growing, pregnancy and the complications of childbirth are the leading cause of death for young women aged between 15 and 19.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of 15-19 year olds newly infected with HIV are female. Because they are physically the weakest of what is considered the ‘weaker sex’, younger women are also in danger of assault and rape. Nearly 50 per cent of all sexual assaults worldwide are against girls under 15. And the rise of religious fundamentalism over the last few years, underpinned sometimes by extreme conservatism when it comes to women’s rights, has led not only to the undermining of women’s rights, but to increasing numbers of young women murdered by their relatives for supposedly infringing a family code of ‘honour’. Young women like Banaz Mahmood, aged 20, who was killed in London in January 2006 by her father, uncle and a family associate because they disapproved of her boyfriend. Her body was found three months later in a suitcase buried in a pit in Birmingham.
A girl is no less than a boy; if anything, they are all the more diligent, hardworking and consistent in their effort towards anything. A girl should be educated in order to ensure a better life for herself. If she is empowered she would be in a condition to add on the income of the family, and raising the living condition of her family. As goes the saying from the Rig Veda, “the home has, verily, its foundation in the wife.” An educated mother can give better care to her children. Since she is the first teacher of the child, she is ought to be well versed to inculcate better value system in the child. An ignorant mother would not understand the idea of proper hygiene and sanitation leading to lack of proper care of the child-malnourishment is a living example of this problem.
Over the last 30 years, legislation to protect and prevent discrimination against women and children has been introduced at international and national levels. But few laws refer to girls and young women specifically.
In 1979, the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, known as CEDAW, is essentially a bill of women’s rights.
In 1989, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child gave under 18s, both boys and girls, protection under the law.
In 1993, The World Conference on Human Rights, in Vienna, stated clearly for the first time that: ‘The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.’ The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defined such violence as: ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private.’
In 1994, The International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, introduced a 20-year policy agenda that is shaping reproductive and sexual health programmes and policies around the world.
In 1995, The Fourth UN World Conference on Women, Beijing. The Beijing Platform for Action mentions ‘rights’ approximately 500 times and calls for protection of a wide range of women’s rights. It is an important document used by women’s groups and governments to work on gender equality.
In 2000, The UN Millennium Declaration committed its signatories to the goal of: ‘gender equality and empowerment of women’, to universal primary education for both girls and boys and improvements in maternal health, among others.
The Ekiti State legislation on gender-based violence – is one of the few pieces of legislation on gender-based violence in Nigeria. It recognizes that gender-based violence includes economic abuse. Economic abuse is defined in the Law as including the denial of funds, refusal to contribute financially, denial of food and basic needs and controlling access to health care and employment. (Section2). The Law further goes on to provide in Section 31 for a Gender-Based Violence Fund. The Fund is to provide among other things basic material support for victims of gender-based violence and their dependants affected by the violence, rescue, rehabilitation and re-integration of victims of gender-based violence; the construction of shelters from victim of gender-based violence in different local government areas and for training and capacity building of persons connected with the provision of shelter, rehabilitation and re-integration.
The Lagos State Protection Against Domestic Violence Law 2007 also recognizes economic abuse. It does not, however, include provisions for a fund to address the needs of people who are victims of domestic or other kinds of gender-based violence.
However, last year, the Lagos State government indicated its intentions to establish a Fund which would allow young lawyers to provide free legal services to women and children who would find it difficult to access legal services otherwise.
The Violence Against Persons Bill (Violence Prohibition Bill) also provides for a Trust Fund for Victims of gender-based violence. A Commission to be Established by the Bill will administer the operation of the Victims Trust Fund. This Bill has been in the making for over ten years, awaiting passage by the National Assembly. One can only hope the wait will be over when the new administration takes the reins of government.
While legislation is important, discrimination against girls cannot be abolished by laws alone: a belief in the equal rights of women needs to start in the family and continue through school, work and marriage. This can be reinforced in a number of ways:
First, invest in girls and young women. Adequate resources must be supplied to provide for young women and girls, in particular for the poorest and most vulnerable. This is an investment not just in half the population of the world, but in the future for all.
Second, promote attitudinal change from cradle to grave. Fathers, husbands and brothers need to be encouraged to view their female relatives as equal to themselves. Young men must challenge the ways they have been brought up and the traditional ways in which they see themselves. As long as women are considered second-class citizens, young women will never be able to achieve their full potential.
Third, enforce existing laws relating to girls and young women and discriminatory laws changed to promote their human rights.
Forth, more data on girls and young women specifically are urgently needed. Statistics and material are collected either on children or on women in general- young women’s needs, as distinct from those of young men, are ignored.
Fifth, listen to girls and let them participate. There are many young women out there with the confidence to make themselves heard and the skills and knowledge to make a difference. Their voices and views must be listened to by those in power, and supported by family and friends.
All forms of discrimination against the girl child and violation of her rights must be eliminated by undertaking strong measures both preventive and punitive within and outside the family. These would relate specifically to strict enforcement of laws against parental sex selection and the practices of female forticide, female infanticide, child marriage, child abuse and child marriage, child abuse and child prostitution etc. Removal of discrimination in the treatment of the girl child within the family and outside and projection of a positive image of the girl child must be actively fostered. There should be special emphasis on the needs of the girl child and earmarking of substantial investments in the areas relating to food and nutrition, health and education, and in vocational education. In implementing programmes for eliminating child-labour, there should be a special focus on girl children. Added to these, special care should be taken to reduce gender disparities, infant mortality and malnutrition, to prevent female foeticide and infanticide to increase enrolment and retention of girls in schools besides elimination of child labour.
Discrimination against girl child is a curse for the society. Mass campaigns in favour of survival of girl child and giving her human right including education, must be initiated to bring a positive change. Once the platform for girl’s survival is taken up by the public, not only will the girls survive but their health and education can also be taken care of. Such campaigns need to be organized particularly in the villages highlighting the threat to the life of the girl child and creating awareness in the villages about the dangerous consequences which the society as a whole will have to face without the girl children. The issue has to be discussed on religious, cultural, economic, political and social level.
The only way to solve the problem of women’s subordination is to change people’s mindset and to plant the new idea of gender equality into every mind.
How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!
Kayode is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Mega Phone Magazine and CEO JOBA Enterprise, wrote in from Lagos.