The world recently witnessed the launch of a landmark campaign in the days leading to International Women’s Day, when global attention to the plight of 130 million out-of-school girls was brought to the fore. Raheem Akingbolu reports

 

Although the commemoration of the 2017 edition of the International Women’s Day is over, #GirlsCount, initiated by ONE Campaign, an international campaigning and advocacy organisation was a significant activity of the year that resonated across countries of the world. Over 70 top celebrities took part in the campaign by lending their voices to the call on world leaders to tackle poverty by addressing gender inequality. And, the impact was tremendous.

Bono, Malala, Angelique Kidjo, David Oyelowo, Waje, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and Desmond Elliot among other celebrities participated in the campaign promoting girl-child education, and took part in counting the 130 million out-of-school girls one by one.

The very ambitious project of counting from 1 to 130,000,000 has progressed substantially with scores of videos added daily. The aim is to get people of all countries, faiths, races, genders, and political ideologies to produce and upload 130 million different video clips of themselves counting their chosen number; each representing a girl denied education.

The result will be a film that is by far the longest movie of all time, one featuring the highest number of celebrities – too historic to ignore.

Celebrity power has been found to have great influence on consumer behaviour.

For many, movie and TV stars, artistes, athletes, pop stars, top monarchs, influential business tycoons and politicians, serve as arbiters of taste, quality, morality and public opinion. As such, many believe that any product, service or a cause that gets the endorsement of their favorite celebrities is good. This has been employed by marketers of great brands and in it lies the strength of the #GirlCount campaign.

 Synopsis of the campaign

Over the years, ONE Campaign has employed various methods to campaign for actions to help eradicate extreme poverty. In this campaign, which focuses on girl-child education, it has deployed celebrity power to get its core messages across. The sheer size of the conversations the campaign has continued to generate on social media among the young and old, bears testimony of how generationally impactful ONE Campaign’s creative strategy has been.

The goal is clear, the world needs to solve the education crisis evinced by 130 million girls being out of school – a population that is larger than the United Kingdom and France combined. In a report titled, ‘Poverty is Sexist: Why Educating Every Girl is Good for Everyone’, ONE Campaign drew attention to the crisis – and opportunity – around girls’ education and showed why educating girls is a smart investment.

The report states that educating girls to the same level as boys could benefit developing countries to the tune of at least $112 billion a year and helps stabilise societies that are vulnerable to extremism. It notes that the consequences of not educating girls are grave: girls out of school miss out on opportunities to fulfill their potentials. They are more likely to become child brides, more vulnerable to diseases and more likely to die young.

The imports

According to ONE Campaign, “educating girls does not just benefit them; everyone gains. Education has the potential to improve not only girls’ lives through better economic opportunities and more autonomy to make life choices, but those of their families, their communities and their countries.”

Omotola, who is a GirlsCount Ambassador, has since been speaking on girl-child education at different occasions such as TV and radio interviews, and during her celebrity appearance at the Big Brother Nigeria House. She has been demanding that governments address what she called the injustice of denying millions of girls the opportunity to go to school. “Growing up in Nigeria, I was lucky to have access to quality education. Today, there are 130 million girls globally who have not had the same opportunities as I have and are denied the chance to go to school,” Omotola said.

“These girls are kept out of the classroom, not by choice, but by poverty, discrimination, violence, early marriage and domestic responsibility. That’s why I am joining with the ONE Campaign to demand that our leaders address this injustice and support every girl’s right to learn by doubling the funding for education by 2020. I’ve chosen to count the number 7, because education is power – and every girl should have the opportunity to be in control of her own destiny.”

Owing to the fact that a vast majority of these out-of-school girls are African, Grammy Award-winning artiste and activist, Angelique Kidjo, has addressed government in Africa saying, “I am proud to lend my voice, alongside the ONE Campaign, to the urgent call on our governments in Africa and their partners around the world to act. To cut programs for girls’ education at this moment in time would undermine a whole generation.”

As Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, put it, one of the challenges in effectively addressing this global crisis is conveying its staggering scale. “130 million girls are being denied the basic human right of an education – the domino effect of which none of us can afford to ignore. I joined the count at ONE.org choosing number five because that’s the age millions of girls around the world should be walking into a classroom for the first time. Far too many of them will never get that chance, unless we demand world leaders act,” Sandberg said.

On March 8, ONE Africa teams met with senior officials of the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja and the Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, to hand-deliver an open letter signed by over 330,000 people calling for leaders not to defer actions and investments needed to improve girl-child education.

Since then more and more Nigerians have joined the campaign. The expectation is that the movement will elicit massive policy changes and decisive actions that will get millions more girls enrolled and kept in school.