By Kemi Yesufu
Girls from different parts of the country thronged the Mariam Babangida Auditorium of the National Centre for Women Development on Friday, October 11 to mark the International Day of the Girl Child.
Speaking at the event, Director-General of the National Centre for Women Development (NCWD), Mary Ekpere-Esq said, educating the girl-child positions her for a good future and a productive life.
Ekpere-Eta noted that Nigerian women through their many successes have proven that investing in the education of girls comes with immeasurable gain.
The United Nations Declaration of 19th December, 2011, instituted the International Day of the Girl-Child, to bring to the fore, the challenges faced by the Girl-Child and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. The Day was observed worldwide for the first time on 11th October, 2012.
The 2019 International Day of the Girl Child had the theme “Unscripted and Unstoppable – Empowering Girls for a Brighter Tomorrow”. It comes on the heels of the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing+25.
She said: “In today’s world girls are pushing barriers and challenges that hitherto hindered their progress in life. I have seen girls breaking barriers that go beyond the capabilities of any person, fighting for inclusion in development from all fronts of life through girls movements such as the @GirlsForce and Girl4Girls in Nigeria to raise their voices to stop child marriage, promote self-esteem, girls education and for them remain in school, learning life skills and standing for their rights to achieve their life dreams.
“In the last 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action and its option protocols were ratified by Nigeria, much has been achieved with regards to the Girl Child”.
“However, there is still much to be desired as Child Marriage still exist, there are daily occurrences of Gender Based Violence against the Girl Child, girls are still being used as sex slaves, girls are unable to complete their basic education due to insecurity and vulnerability of the family etc.
“Investing in education of girls and ensuring they remain in school is still the best option, as it will enable the girls to reach their dreams and better their livelihood. In this rapidly changing world, girls who miss out of foundational education and life skills will be more vulnerable in the future; this will worsen inequality and re-echo poverty for generations to come. Thus all hands must be on deck to break existing barriers to Girl Child Education in Nigeria” she added.
At a media parley to mark the Day of the Girl Child, Ekpere-Eta reiterated the commitment of the Centre to advocating for greater investment in protecting girls against sexual exploitation and making them more aware of reproductive health services, especially with regard menstrual hygiene.
She condemned sexual harassment and sexual assault of girls in educational institutions, even as she disclosed that the NCWD centre for sexual assault will play a role in fighting sexual crimes. The Centre houses the Digital Dashboard on Gender Based Violence.
On his part, minister for Education (State), Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba said each additional year of education for a girl increases her chances of earning a good income by 12 percent. Nwajiuba who was represented by Mrs. Bukar Ajanigo stressed that educated girls grow into mothers, who in turn raise empowered children. He added that educated girls help families in escaping the vicious circle of poverty.
Giving her goodwill message, minister of State, FCT, Hajiya Ramatu Tijjani , called on stakeholders from the public and private sector to assist in helping girls actualize their dreams. She stressed the need to come up with policies and programmes that will empower girls and protect them against all forms of abuse.
UNICEF Country Representative to Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, assured on the commitment of development partners to assisting the Nigerian government see to girls completing the basic 12 years of education. He was represented at the event by Dr. Anfreda Kisase.
Also at the event, Chairperson House of Representatives Committee on Women Affairs, Hon. Wunmi Onanuga celebrated how well Nigerian girls have proven themselves as women.
“I remember our early days when the girl child was relegated to the background, denied access to education and was subjected to all manner inhuman treatment, not just by their parents, but the larger society. Many of them, where forced into early marriage either as a way of getting rid of them or for child bearing.
“It is a thing of joy that times have changed, we can all testify to the fact that the girl child of today competes with favorably with their male counterparts in all spheres of life, regardless of day to day challenges, ranging from sexual abuse, child labour, human trafficking, rape and violence”, she said.
Onanuga was represented at the ceremony by her Deputy, Hon. Vincent Ofumelu, who condemned all forms of sexual violence. He advocated for stiffer penalties for rape and a higher number of convictions.
Speaking on behalf of the Executive Secretary of Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Dr. Hammid Boboyi, Director Social Organisation, Bello Kabir, reiterated the incalculable returns on investing in girls education.
Bello presented awards to girls who came tops in the essay competition, staged as part of the Day of Girl Child celebration.
For the Junior category, Halima Shehu went home with the first prize, Janet Magani from Kebbi State came second with Maurice Doris from Bayelsa State taking the third position.
For the primary school pupils, Ebebe Glory from Bayelsa State came in at number one, Tonia Michael also from Bayelsa came in second and Dahiru Safiya from Katsina State was third position.
Earlier in her speech, President of Girls4Girls Conference, Bilkisu Masud, said participants at trainings before Friday’s event had been empowered.