The Determined, Aspire, Re-Imagine and Express (DARE) Conference 2021, a pan-African conference organised by YouthHubAfrica, opened on Friday with several discussions on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), education, early marriages and culture with regards to women and girls in the society.
The conference seeks to foster collaboration between African youths, government and civil society organisations to work together realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This year’s DARE Conference, with the theme, ‘Expanding Margins’, is geared towards ending sexual and gender based violence against women and girls in Nigeria and Africa at large.
The executive director of YouthHubAfrica, Mr Rotimi Olawale, was the moderator at one of the panel sessions, where discussion focused on ending sexual and gender based violence, promoting gender equality and youth development.
According to Olawale, the purpose of the conference was to bring young people together to interact, learn and also listen to the current trends around the issues that are being discussed.
On the issue of sexual violence, he said data shows us that during the COVID-19 lockdown, percentage of intimate partner violence increased.
“This forum will deal with how young people can respond to such things, especially if you are facing sexual violence, harassment at the work place, colleges.
“We need to understand that women, especially young ones have been at a disadvantage for a long time and so it’s important that various initiatives and programmes that have been designed to support women continue.
“Also, because men and boys are the main perpetrators of sexual violence, they need to be well educated from a young age so that they can learn how to properly relate with girls and women and live in a society harmoniously.
“Another area we are going to be focusing on in this forum is how to build a harmonious society. People are complaining that there are a lot of challenges in Nigeria but young people are also supposed to be part of the solution.
“We just celebrated the International Youth Day and so it behooves on the youth to take on the challenge and focus on how to contribute to a better Nigeria. There is no perfect nation in the world, every nation has its own challenges and this gives the youth opportunity to participate in making things better,” Olawale said.
The national programme coordinator for Spotlight Initiative, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ms Hadiza Aminu Dorayi, who was one of the panelists, said that one of the reasons for the conference was that it would help to educate the youths, including parents, community leaders on important developmental issues like early marriages, culture so that they can be positively engaged and participate properly, thereby improving national development.
“The percentage of completion of education among girls in the Northwest is four per cent, while that of boys is 50 per cent. This is why Spotlight is focusing on making sure that girls in the states concerned have proper education and are able to complete both the primary and secondary aspects.
“Another important factor is that making sure the girls are educated is not as important as giving them quality education. To be able to achieve this, we need the support of the state governments- governors, commissioners, states parliament and community leaders.
“In this conference we hope to address issues that have to do with sexual and gender based violence, reproductive health of women and girls, how we can encourage men and boys to be champions in supporting women and to nullify negative social norms that are prevalent in our society,” she added.
Ms Ulla Elisabeth Mueller, the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative, another panelist, said there were a handful of success stories but the major challenges governing child marriage are negative cultural norms!
“We need to have conversations with traditional, religious leaders, and parents and most importantly, not forget to communicate the economic impact of such acts and how society is losing huge potential when girls are married out early.
“We also need to understand that young girls who are forced into marriages are exposed to complications such as fistula. It is also a gross violation of their human rights.”
On the issue of education, Toyosi Akerele- Ogunsiji, a social entrepreneur and human development expert, one of the speakers in another panel discussion, said that if we don’t empower teachers and vocational education in Nigeria, we are not ready for change.
“Lack of creativity on the part of our policy makers is a big problem, we will not stop building bigger prisons until we begin to prioritise education in Nigeria. What you prioritise is what gains value. Hence, I will look forward to a country where policy makers are mandated to enroll their children in Nigerian schools because Nigeria’s fortune will never advance as long as we keep running a certificate economy, where people who have certificates are seen to be superior over others because teaching in Nigeria has been left as a contingency plan for those who cannot get jobs in other fields.
“We have a system that teaches people to memorise and not to perform. Also, Mathematics must become a subject that we prioritise in Nigeria because it is foundation for quantitative reasoning and the best way to groom problem solving techniques.
About 85 per cent of jobs will be taken over by automation in the coming years, the question is where will Nigerian children stand in this? What are our gains and losses?” Our parents need to wake up and understand that whether they like it or not, this generation will be the one that will transform Nigeria.”
While speaking, Kiki James,founder and chief executive officer of ACE Charity, a nongovernmental organisation, said there is need to change the approach on how we educate people in Nigeria.
“We need to be creative in our approach so we can keep children in schools and also provide quality education. We need people who are willing to drive the needed change in our educational system to invest in it because investing in primary education is a must in Nigeria. We have lost so much time and we need to catch up with what is going on globally, as regards education.”
According to Mr Olawale, Nigeria belongs to all of us, we don’t have another country and so we need to do all we can to ensure Nigeria becomes better.
“Our youths need to participate in the ongoing voter’s registration and register. In the area of sexual and gender based violence, we need to ensure it stops and also do away with other harmful practices. If we make up our minds to work together, irrespective of our cultural, religious differences, Nigeria will continue to improve.”
The conference continues tomorrow, August 14, 2021 with panel discussions touching on youth-related matters, sexual and reproductive health issues, HIV-AIDS concert with several top performers.