African-American tennis champions, Venus and Serena Williams, visited Lagos to inspire young girls and women to attain greater heights, writes Mary Ekah
“It does not matter what your background is and where you are from, if you have dreams and goals, that is all that matters.” With those words, Venus and Serena Williams inspired school age girls in Nigeria to success. For decades, Women have battled for equality and the message from the Williams sisters is not different, except that their approach is innovative and re-assuring, that anyone regardless of race, colour and sex can be successful.
Since their coming to Lagos was announced, there has been a bit of frenzy in the cosmopolitan city. Everyone wants to catch a glimpse of success. Everyone was upbeat about the coming of the Queens of tennis, the two women who have dominated lawn tennis court for over a decade and have inspired many to success.
Venus, 32, and Serena, 31 arrived in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, on Tuesday, October 30, as part of a two-nation tour where they played exhibition matches to promote women’s rights, a visit to Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola and a talk session with secondary school girls.
In a ‘‘Breaking The Mould’’ (BTM) campaign, that set their sights on Lagos, they talked about their experience, failures and success to encourage more women to break the moulds that have stood between them and their potentials.
Speaking to an audience of young girls at the United States Consulate General’s residence in Ikoyi Lagos, to promote women’s tennis as well as to encourage young girls in Africa to get involved in sports, the duo said that their aim for the tour was to encourage Nigerian girls to rise and achieve their potentials.
In a bid to inspire the girls to take up the sport as well as pursue their dreams not minding their status as women, Venus, one of the sisters said, “It does not matter what your background is and where you are from, if you have dreams and goals, that is all that matters”.
The Williams told the girls their success story during a talk on their journey to stardom as tennis players, while they later conducted tennis classes with the children showing a documentary on “Kick like a Girl” to motivate them.
“Kick like a Girl” is the story of what happens when The Mighty Cheetahs, an undefeated all-girls soccer team, competes in the boys division. With humour and candour, this documentary reminds people all of the lessons learned in competitive athletics and how sports have been one of the most effective instruments of social change during a lifetime.
“We started playing tennis at four years old, so you can imagine that we are a bit older now. We started out like the documentary, kicking and hitting like girls and I think it is a great opportunity and great programme for you guys; and to be part of it means so much”, the Williams sisters said.
Serena in particular told the girls that, “Through the years I have realised that it takes discipline, hard work and focus to make it in life. Anything you want to achieve in life, you have to work harder to build yourself up because you have so much to contribute to your country and to the world. When Venus and I were growing up, all we thought about was playing tennis and to win a bigger tournament but we never thought that at 30, tennis will give us the opportunity to be here today and to speak to you and do something so much better than we could ever do on the tennis court.
So you never know what opportunities will come your way. If you open one door, there would be more doors of opportunities. So, it is extremely important that when you have an opportunity, you take it and don’t be afraid. Sometimes they could be challenging and scary. I have been in a position where I was so scared to open that ‘door’ but eventually when I did, there were other ones to be opened and led us later to bigger and greater things that enabled us to be here to talk to you. We hope that you can take something from our world and build a beautiful bright future.”
The Tennis champions who said their parents motivated them to play tennis, told the young audience that it took them hard work to be where they are today. “It takes a lot of preparation and discipline. You have to push yourself farther than you ever thought.”
The Consul-General of the United States Consulate in Lagos, Mr Jeffrey Hawkins during the occasion advised young Nigerian girls to develop their sporting talents, alongside their studies. The Consul-General urged the young girls to emulate African- American Lawn Tennis Stars by shunning acts capable of leading them astray.
Hawkins restated the U.S government’s commitment to empowering the girl child, toward the realisation of their potential.
On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. These challenges, according to, The Executive Director, Arise Nigerian Women Foundation, Ms Abimbola Junaid, often begin at the conception with the fetal discrimination and termination based on gender. For those that survive it and are born girls, the discrimination continues in the deeply rooted norms that undervalues the girl child. Not surprising, all these have profound impacts on all aspect of the girl child.
Girls face discrimination, violence and abuse every day across the world. This alarming reality justifies the International Day of the Girl Child, a new global observance to highlight the importance of empowering girls and ensuring their human rights.
A report by the United Nations, states that in many countries the girl child is discriminated against from the earliest stages of life, through her childhood and into adulthood. Reports also show that girls are often treated as inferior and are socialised to put themselves last, thus undermining their self-esteem.