A Nigerian Girl speaks!
As a child growing up in Nigeria, the folklores I heard, the stories told, the songs that were taught to me by my mother and grandmother, and the dance styles that showed the true essence of a Nigerian woman made me eager to become a woman. But as the years went by, the stories changed, the songs became faint, the dances disappeared and the food became stale. The faces that once brought smiles now bring tears and reasons to be disillusioned. What went wrong in Nigeria and Africa? In the past, girls in Africa were seen as a waste of time and a burden to their societies. Our rights have been infringed upon one too many times and our cultures are partly to blame for such situations. Then I discovered that behind the smile, behind the dances, behind the story, is a girl that cries all day looking for whom to speak for her. We tend to forget that girl children are tomorrow’s women who will in turn produce the future leaders of Nigeria. Whatever they have received is what they will in turn give back. Although there have been some improvements regarding the ways girls and women are viewed in African societies, the changes that have occurred have been very minimal. There are many governmental issues that serve as setbacks to the strides made to girls’ and women’s situations. In order for a girl child to be the light and an agent of change in her society, certain infrastructures have to be in place. Some of the problems are:
Lack of girl child education
It is said that if you educate the girl child, you educate a generation and if you do not, the reverse will be the case thereby leading to mass illiteracy. In the northern part of Nigeria, the need for the girl child to be married by age 12 prevents the girl from continuing her education. Girls are exposed to many sexually transmitted diseases, VVF and/or death. When her children begin to reach puberty, she is unaware of the changes that occur in their bodies and lacks the necessary information about their sexual health. Furthermore, she does not know how to talk to her girl children about their sexual and reproductive health needs. As a result of this, young girls seek advice from inexperienced friends and opportunistic males, increasing her risk of exposure to HIV and other sexually related illnesses. Also, in some rural communities female genital mutilation seems to be the order of the day as many teenage girls stream into their local herbalist’s clinic with their mothers and community women by their side. Baseless superstitions designed to prevent girls from engaging in premarital sexual practices serve as the primary reasons behind young women’s insistence on genital mutilation. All these problems happen while our government fold their hands and do NOTHING.
In light of the aforementioned issues, the importance of female empowerment and girl child education cannot be overemphasized. Most times women do not even have the right to determine the decisions regarding their reproductive health. In some communities, women and girls are denied access to contraceptives and/or information about family planning. Some of these communities view family planning as evil and ungodly. Finally, women and girls in these communities also contend with poor access to obstetric care.
The effects of poverty are seen everywhere in most parts of our communities. It was recently reported that a village community in Bayelsa, Nigeria has been encouraging girls at the age of puberty and below to go into commercial sex work as a means to care for their family members. Every time such actions are encouraged, a girl child is sacrificed on the altar of poverty. These family members do not care about what happens to these girls while they are on the streets; their primary concern is that their selfish desires are being met. When some of the girls become pregnant, they attempt to abort the pregnancy using techniques that are detrimental to their health. In addition, poverty has also landed many girls into child labour. My spirit cries when I see girls of my age and under, who should be in school hawking on the streets. I often ponder what becomes of these young women- what if they are killed, raped, kidnapped or even used for rituals? Is anyone listening to the voices that cry out from the various parts of our country? A time has come for us to speak up and say NO MORE! It is time for the government to listen to us.
Our beloved government of Nigeria, girls do not want to listen to sweet words from the mouths of our leaders about how beautiful we are. All we want is good governance so that our dreams may be realized. We want to be heard! We need 100% commitment from the government on health related issues, information and services, not just for us but for our children and those yet unborn. We need your commitment on the promotion of women’s rights. What legacy would you want to leave knowing you have a daughter, niece, sister and friend? I do not think that this is too much to ask from the GIANT OF AFRICA – the land where leaders emerge from the wombs of women……..