The Annual Girls Speak Out summit to mark the International Day of the Girl at the United Nations, New York is an event I try not to miss every October. However, for reasons beyond my control, I couldn’t attend last year’s. In 2015, I ended up with mixed feelings- one of great joy and excitement as girls from different races inspired everyone with stories of girl power — in art, pictures, poetry, songs, video — to showcase the unique role girls play in our world while emphasizing the unusual challenges girls have to deal with today, from injustice in society, their community and in the workplace, to unfairness in opportunities in education, or gender violence, girl-child marriage, sexism, war, climate change, and many others.
As delightful and heart-warming it was to watch them perform, I was sorely disappointed that our country which appears to be “satanically patriarchal” and the citadel of girl-child marriage was not even mentioned once or represented. I never came across any Nigerian even at the foyer least of all the Chamber where it held and the Nigeria House (Mission) is just about 3 minutes walk from the UN. However, I shouldn’t have been surprised because if there are only 8 women out of 109 members of the Senate and 14 women out of 360 members of the Federal House of Representatives, how can our voices be heard? In a polity where it appears the female representatives are sworn to silence as far as the rights of the female folk is concerned.
This year, a surprise awaited me. I opened the pamphlet and my eyes almost popped out as the first speaker was our very own Amina Mohammed (UN Deputy Secretary-General. How could I have forgotten so soon that she would be represented if she was engaged and couldn’t make the event? Just before the event began, she came in accompanied by a retinue of UN officials of all races! That brought so much honour to me as a Nigerian! She was so unassuming, so innocent, so sweet, just like a girl! And to think she’s from the Northern part of Nigeria which has no mercy on the girl-child! And to think a relatively young female Northerner has just been appointed the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria! Hmm…shouldn’t this signal a change in the Northern orientation as regards to education and girl-child marriage? Isn’t it so obvious these two women have the enormous power to shape the future of the Nigerian female? Can they effectively wield their power in that direction? I’m keenly watching and waiting!
I charge you to assist every girl you come across in your own little way. Their wombs will birth the future and their orientation and mindset will shape the future society!
–Temilolu Okeowo is an author, lawyer, forensics examiner, multiple newspaper columnist and a girl-child advocate.