In September 1995 at the 4th world conference on Women held in Beijing, several resolutions were passed and countries unanimously adopted a call for action. This has been one of the most progressive blueprints ever for advancing the rights of not only women but girls. The Beijing declaration called out for the rights of girls. On the 19th of December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution to; declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child. To recognize the rights of girls, unique challenges facing them all over the world and to promote girls’ empowerment and girls rights.
International Day for the Girl Child
The International Day for the Girl Child is a day we’re reminded of how strong and powerful girls are. It is a day when we’re reminded that what truly unites us as girls and women is our resilience. The fact that girls are standing tall in spite of the odds set against us, goes to show what stuff we are made of. We might not have completely won the fight against inequality but we have certainly made tremendous progress over the years. We will keep sounding our gong until the world hears it until the world feels it; and until the world dances to the tune of equality, equity, and fairness.
The words of feminist icon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Beyonce’s Flawless comes to mind.
Girls are currently blazing trails all over the world. Nigerian girls are doing exploits in the International space, and black girls are getting several medals on global platforms. This phenomenon goes to show how much girls add to nation-building, how important we are to the growth of this nation; and how we are much more than the narratives and stereotypes society has forced down our throats for years. As girls we refuse to go small, we refuse to settle for less, we refuse to be boxed into stereotypes; and we refuse to be held by society’s standards of who we are supposed to be.
The time for that evolution is now, the time when we stand in one united voice as girls to say; “Our time is now, our rights, our future”.
Education should never be a privilege but a right. It should be a basic fundamental human right that is not just in the books but enforced right, because an educated girl is an empowered girl. In so many cultures, girl children are not given the right to education, especially in the northern part of Nigeria where male chauvinism and patriarchy is so high. Girls below the age of 18 are forced into marriages where they are expected to bear children and be submissive.
Child marriage has become the order of the day and this is not just prevalent in the northern part of Nigeria; but also in certain states in the South. We have cultures like the Becheve culture of the Obanliku people; a Local Government in Cross River State where girls between the ages of 5 to 15 are forced into marriages to secure loans or repay debt. Young girls are objectified and used in exchange for money in what they call “Money wives”; a barbaric custom that has stolen the future, dreams, and childhood from these girls.
While some girls enjoy the luxury of sitting in a well-furnished classroom learning and interacting, a lot of other girls are out of school and have probably never seen the four walls of a classroom. This happens for a number of reasons ranging from girl-child marriage to unwanted pregnancies, poverty e.t.c.
Challenging the status quo
The International Day of the Girl Child is a day when we search our souls and ask ourselves the big question; “WHAT CAN I DO TO CHANGE THE STATUS QUO?” “What can I do to stop this menace of child marriage, child trafficking, female genital mutilation, and violation of girl children?
It is not enough to talk about these things and go back without taking action. We need to stand up to the occasion and stand up for one another. We need to teach girls to stay accountable to one another, you don’t need to know people to help them. As girls, we have been called to be our sister’s keeper, look out for yourself and look out for others. If you have a friend who is being abused or tortured by anyone you need to speak up, say something! As girls, we keep secrets but we should not cover up life threatening situation or abuse. If you see or hear something you are not comfortable with, say something. Our general mantra as girls should be “If you see something, say something”
The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle is also very passionate about girls, and has on several occasions told the story of how she started making impact at the age of 11 (listen HERE). You are accountable for your mom, your sister, your friends, your church member, that girl hawking across the street, and that stranger. Women supporting women starts from girls accountability for girls.
We need to teach our girls to dream and not be afraid of dreaming regardless of what society thinks of them or how weird their dreams look. We need to teach girls to own and control their own narratives and to never limit how far their dreams can go. Dream until your dreams are capable of making you break barriers. Who says you can’t become the first female president? That has been my dream since I was little and I ain’t changing it for nobody.
Dare to dream
Do not be scared of dreaming and do not be scared of what people will say. No one can dream your dream except you. No one knows you as much as yourself so give yourself the chance to dream and see into the great future that lies ahead of you. Be radical if you want to be just like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Question the status quo if you want to, just like Meghan Markle did. Dream if you want to just like Mina did and the world will eventually adjust.
About the writer
Mina Hope Obeten is a Lawyer, UN trained Gender Rights Advocate and Founder of The Amazon Tribe (TAT)