The truth about girls lives in Nigeria

Image Source: GirlHub Nigeria

Image Source: GirlHub Nigeria

In March this year, GirlHub Nigeria invited me to give a talk during Social Media Week Lagos, which I started with a prayer I’d written for little girls. I’d like to share it with you bearing in mind that it is not religion specific.

Dear God, may the next generation of girls not grow up to worry about the same issues that our generation of women worry about, may they not grow up to fight the same struggles that we are fighting. May they come of age into a world that will not discriminate, violate or restrict them from reaching their fullest potential. May they rejoice in their humanity. May they live freely and wholly and contribute to making the world a more interesting and just place.

Unfortunately, the events that have taken place in Nigeria in the past few weeks make the prayer seem utopianist. Yet the truth is, in a country where only eleven percent of girls complete secondary school and where a quarter of girls are married before the age of fifteen the prospects for girls were bleak even before the abduction of hundreds of girls by Boko Haram.

A significant amount of Nigerian girls live under a strict patriarchy where their lives predominantly serve the purpose of servitude to men: fathers, brothers, uncles, husbands, you name it. Don’t get me wrong, both girls and boys are impacted by Nigeria’s cultural, political and economical landscape but make no mistake about it: gender is not a secondary “special” concern of the Boko Haram insurgency – it has everything to do with it. First, because war and conflict always strengthen male dominance: from Serbia to Syria to Somalia, what all conflict situations share in common is that they put more men in power and extract more women from it. Furthermore, using girls as pawns, sex slaves and general caretakers is a way not simply to assert ideological beliefs but to assert malecentric ideological beliefs.

This is important because while the #BringTheGirlsBack campaign is first and foremost a campaign to return the abducted girls and fight against the imminent threat of Boko Haram and the lesser-known Ansaru it is also a campaign about creating a more just, safe Nigeria. At least to my sensibilities, #BringBackOurGirls signifies a shift in awareness in the Nigerian psyche that has much to do with demanding better leadership and accountability, and, this should include gender equality.

The past decade has seen many positive developments for women in Nigeria and Africa at large. Together with financial and technological growth, there have come changes in attitudes: African societies are seeing an increasing amount of women leaders in politics, culture, entrepreneurship and so on. And there is a rare opportunity to make women part of the political, social and cultural fabric of society. However, this will only be sustained if we create a better future for girls.

In practical terms, this might mean any number of things: protesting, advocating and raising awareness; mentoring a girl; lobbying that laws that protect girls are enforced; advocating that schools teach girls about leadership; creating apps for girls; crowd funding to write a children’s book for girls. Or just simply stopping when you see a little girl looking shy and sad, to tell her that she is beautiful, strong and that she has the right to flourish.

What matters is not what we do per se but that we understand that the safety and thriving of girls in Nigeria goes hand in hand with the safety and thriving of Nigeria itself. Boko Haram knows this truth about girls’ lives in Nigeria: that is why they have taken our girls.

Please add your thoughts to the conversation!

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  • Tee Tee

    I am not thinking clearly since i heard in the first few days of this happening. So much so i am crying reading this >> What matters is not what we do per se but that we understand that the safety and thriving of girls in Nigeria goes hand in hand with the safety and thriving of Nigeria itself. Boko Haram knows this truth about girls’ lives in Nigeria: that is why they have taken our girls.<< Girl life matters, that's a fact, and we really shouldn't have their kidnapping as proof for one.

    I know from history and the beginning of time, women / girls have been used, their lifes as collateral damage for whatever pissing contest the men are having. BH with an axe to grind is doing the same. But, these are babies that have no part in any of this madness.

    As for your question, i think you have said plenty here, certainly given me food for thought. Thank you for all you do Minna! Toyin

    • MsAfropolitan

      Toyin, thank you for your heartfelt response. If there’s one good thing that has come out of all this sorrow and anger is that we are all investing so much of our energies toward change. There is no way that all this collective energy will not somehow have a positive impact on the ‘universe’. I’ve been reaching that point where I’m feeling vulnerable too and reminding myself of what these girls, and indeed everyone who has been violated by BH, must go through. And then I just feel incredibly lucky.

  • Madam Troublemaker

    I am happy about the fact that the media campaign and the resulting international outrage and intervention has increased the chances of these girls being rescued. I remain worried though because, ultimately the fate of girls and women in Nigeria and Africa in general rests in the hands of local structures, local structures which are still largely inept and will probably remain so as long the the international community is periodically willing to step in and do what they won’t do. The international community cannot be expected to take over the day-to-day handling of Nigeria or other African countries affairs. I remember a couple of months ago when the Nigerian Senate passed the law enabling the taking of underage girls into marriage. There was scant international outrage and life carried on as usual. Some of those children have been committing suicide and murdering the men they were married off to. When will us Africans get to the point where our leaders are accountable to us? Where we can move them to action? When will our fates stop resting on the fickle attention of the international community? If this abduction had happened during say, the presidential election season in the US what are the odds it would have garnered as mush US media attention and support as it has?

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for sharing. These are crucial questions. The senator Yerima thing should have been the tip of the iceberg of our accepting the status quo. So should have the fuel subsidy, the invisible presidency of Yaradua and any countless number of things. Will this be any different? Only time will tell. But some part of me dares to hope that, yes, this was the tip of the iceberg, or should I say the tip of Aso Rock!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for leaving a comment and raising the broader issue of sex slavery. Depressing but necessary.