Sub-Saharan girl-child as an endangered specie

The last few years in Nigeria have seen series of happenings in connection with  the female gender, especially the girl child. Consequently, they have revealed the girl child as a possible endangered species in the country and of course, sub Saharan Africa, where the list of factors affecting the development of the girl child seem to be elongating by the day.

The Nigerian public in February 2016, for instance, woke to the news of one Ese Oruru, a 14 year old girl abducted from Bayelsa State, only to be forcefully married off and converted to practice the Islamic religion in faraway Kano, Northern Nigeria.

The young girl who was abducted since August 2015 by one Yinusa, also known as Yellow, who had patronised Ese’s mother’s food joint after her release and reunion with her family is said to be five months pregnant.

Her release didn’t come until after a series of media intervention which brought the case to the public domain. The alleged abductor is standing trial as at the time of filing in this report.

Just as the dust was settling over the Oruru’s abduction saga, another sad news broke early Monday 29th February when three female students of the Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary were abducted from their school by gun men who shot sporadically into the air to overpower security men attached to the Anglican School.

Though the students were rescued and three of the kidnappers were apprehended through the efforts of the Lagos State government and hardworking Lagos State Police Command, more still needs to be done in protecting the girl child.

Recently, a Christian media group, Journalists For Christ (JFC) Nigeria, sponsored by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), published a report of a monitoring project carried out by JFC titled: “Mainstreaming Gender Reporting on Affirmative Action of Women and Girls Rights Issues.”

The report, a month long monitoring of six national newspapers in Nigeria, captured how women issues were reported in the country.

According to the organisation, media focus on women will help in stemming the tide of violence against them and also give them a fair representation in the liberation of the African continent faced with myriads of challenges.

At the presentation of the publication in Lagos, the book reviewer, Assistant Editor News, Voice of Nigeria, Mrs. Ugonma Cokey, noted that issues surrounding women and girls in the country are usually treated with kid gloves and relegated to the backgrounds which should not be.

“Call it marginalisation or discrimination, the fact remains that women have received scarce representation in media reportage despite their roles and contribution to development for several reasons including cultural and social norms, which have resulted in stereotypes and rights denials,” she noted.

Cokey worried that, “More disturbing is the media’s promotion and validation of this discriminatory attitude through unfair and unbalanced reporting.

This necessitated the need to conduct a baseline monitoring/survey on trends in portrayal and reportage of women and girls rights issues by journalists in media reports.”

Also at one of the workshops on the publication, Executive Director of Media Concern Initiative for Women and Children (MEDIACON), Dr. (Mrs.) Princess Olufemi-Kayode, said the issues surrounding women go beyond what many people know.

Olufemi-Kayode, whose organisation has handled hundreds of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) cases, is well experienced and wants the media particularly to understand issues surrounding CSA and report such with empathy.

She also noticed that several interventions of civil societies have not yielded enough fruits due to the way and manner such cases are handled in Nigeria. “We cannot keep going in circles, we can’t make much progress since we are not ready to do the needful. The police would charge a CSA case for instance to court, it may take six months or a year to bring out the facts, this should not be, this is still a challenge,” she said.

Relaying the activities of her organisation, which still runs helplines on CSA and relevant issues, she said, “Within the 13 years of our operations, there have been some land marks, we pioneered the sexual violence helplines, we have to address how we do things, when we stood up for HIV and AIDS, we got results’’.

Commenting on those who often accuse women of not opening up on these issues, she said, “Don’t heap the blame on such women who do not open up because there is no framework to support and assist them when they open up,” urging the society to desist from some cultural practice and develop support system for girls and women going through gender based trauma.

“We need to understand societal dynamics, we need to understand women and where they are coming from. The society requires every woman to be married. we need to put ourselves in the position of others. Journalists should know the kind of questions they should ask women. A traumatized woman should not be further traumatized, your questions should help her’’, Olufemi-Kayode stressed.

To further wade into the plight of the girl child and provide more visibility, a Non-Governmental Organisation, HACEY, has admitted 70 female students into its training programme where they would learn information technology skills especially in coding and writing computer applications.

Head of the organisation, Isaiah Owolabi, while talking about the project, said, the organisation in its bid to support the development of the women folk, got Access Bank PLC and the American Consulate to partner with it to provide education for girls on Information Technology and increase their chances of a better life.

Speaking further on the project, Owolabi said, “HACEY, in partnership with Access Bank PLC, has commenced training for young girls on how to use computer based skills to create apps needed for human lives. Young girls should be at the forefront of doing things not just talking. The programme is funded by Access Bank and supported by T4D, Intel, Microsoft, we are committed to closing the gender gap. We got over 1,518 applications to attend the programme, it was heavily over-subscribed, we decided to prune the number to 70 to accommodate more girls.”

Speaking at the opening ceremony in Lagos, Public Affairs Officer, United States Consulate General Lagos, Dehab Ghebreab said, “HACEY submitted a proposal to our office eight months ago, we had over 300 proposals and came top. March is so important in women history. We are proud to partner with HACEY.”

Head of Sustainability, Access Bank; Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan at the event, said, the beneficiaries have been taken from a pool of over 1,000 applicants, I enjoin you to be up and doing to justify your inclusion on this training project. I wish you all the best.”

One of the trainers at the event, Ajibade Cletus, co- founder of Safer Mums said: “We are to train them how to use technology to solve problems. For instance, there is the problem of maternal mortality rate, it is so high in Africa and several hundreds of women and children die during child birth annually.” He added that, “Our organisation, Safer Mums has been proffering solutions in this regard since 2005. I believe our Nigerian ladies can bring out something fantastic. Some of the early programmers of the 60s were ladies’’.

Another organisation that is so passionate about the well-being of the girl child is the Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH).

The organisation, with the support of USAID is working tirelessly to alleviate the plight of orphans and vulnerable children.

Ogunmodede Mathew is the Technical Adviser, Special Services for ARFH who said that, “The programme we are implementing now is called LOPIN 1, it is sometimes called ARFH LOPIN, Local Partners for Orphan and Vulnerable Children in Nigeria. It is a five year project that started in 2014 August to end August 2019 to support OCV and those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in three states; Lagos, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom States. The mandate is to support 150,000 children and their families in Lagos State’’.

Speaking at the event, Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation in Lagos State, Hon. (Mrs.) Lola Akande at the presentation of Economic empowerment equipment and materials to 50 caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children in Lagos State, a project by ARFH and sponsored by USAID, said, “It is a well documented fact that poverty is the cause of many societal vices including robbery, child trafficking, child labour, street hawking and transactional unprotected-sex all of which may lead to the transmission of HIV including teenage pregnancy thereby increasing the number of vulnerable children.”

Akande who was represented by Mrs. Vincent at the event, added that, the ministry will not relent on its mandate. “We have established Vocational Skills Acquisition centres in Local Governments to facilitate the training of vulnerable households in income generation activities.”

Also at the event, Chief of Party, ARFH-LOPIN Region 1 Project, Dr. (Mrs.) Iyabode Olusanmi said, “We have with us the first batch of 50 beneficiaries that were found to be eligible for support after conducting a baseline assessment of households struggling to make ends meet in Ajeromi, Ojo , Badagry, Agege and Kosofe Local Government Areas,” she added that: “They would be provided with equipments and materials to start up/stabilise their businesses as mutually agreed in line with their experience, skills and interest. This support will strengthen the economic capacity of the beneficiaries to meet the basic needs of their children and build assets in a sustainable manner.”

With all these support in place, the girl child may move from the apparent status of an endangered species to becoming the giant she is created to be.

Going with the 2016 theme for International Women’s Day; “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality,” all hands must now be on the deck to work together, charting a new cause for the girl child and by extension the women folks in order to preserve the future of our world.

By Dayo Emmanuel

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Post Author: Dayo Emmanuel