Adibe Emenyonu writes on the attempt by Girl Effect, a creative non-profit body in Benin City, to aid the girl-child attain confidence through its recently launched Girls Connect, which is aimed at creating a support network for young girls
Growing up as a girl-child, especially in Nigeria, throws up a lot of issues, like early marriage, child slavery, school dropout, child labour, and sexual abuses. Sometimes, girls are trafficked and prostitution becomes a reality they are forced to live with.
A fiction by Aryn Baker best explains this. In the book titled “Lantana”, Baker portrays the female protagonist, Lantana, as a growing female child who was forced to drop out of school and start working so her parents can afford her brother’s school fees. In the impoverished area where she lives, most bus stops are thronged with so many young girls who are engaged in hawking from trays balanced on their heads.
As most girls on the street who are used for child labour, they are often easy prey for adult males. Still in the book, Lantana thinks she has found a protector in a motor park tout who regularly bought up her daily wares, until the night he lured her into a dark corner and abused her.
As fictional as the book may be, it still depicts the life some adolescent girls live. In Lantana’s story, another aspect that is easily relatable is young girls giving up school to help carter for the family, and in the process being abused by a trusted fellow.
To protect the girl-child, Girl Effect, a creative non-profit body, which is championing the Girls Connect Project, recently launched the project to give voice to young girls who cannot speak out on their own.
At the launch, the wife of Edo State Governor, Mrs. Betsy Obaseki, in her goodwill speech commended all those involved in the initiative aimed at empowering and advancing the course of the girl-child. Obaseki, who was represented by the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare, Mrs. Magdalene Ohehen, said she saw the project as a welcome development where girls can speak up on issues bordering them without being afraid.
Girls Connect Project
According to programmes officer of Girl Effect, Ayo Abosede, the Lantana story is one of the tales of young girls being used in a radical way to help other young girls in Nigeria to navigate the challenges of growing up in a country where low levels of female empowerment and education have contributed to early marriage, stagnant economy and insurgency.
She said explained that the aim of the programme, “Girls Connect” was to use compelling stories like that of Lantana to reach out to young women from across a broad spectrum of Nigerian society through a kind of interactive voice recognition software that a bank might otherwise use to address consumer queries.
She said, “But unlike a bank interaction, the point of Girls Connect is to get the caller’s to engage with a centre representative who can help them process the information and use it in their daily lives. It is a kind of link calling a toll-free bank line to get the latest foreign exchange rates, only to be connected with an agent who gives out personalised advice.
“When callers dial in they are offered a menu of four stories, with four chapters each to choose from. Once they listen to the 2-3 minutes dialogue performed by professional radio actors, they are connected to specially-training agents, which the company call ‘Role Models’. The 13 agents, all women work off a standardised script that is designed to help callers internalise the lesson that Lantana and her fellow characters learn the hard way.”
The Girls Connect narrative as currently piloted is a creative group that combines the power of storytelling with one-to-one support in partnership with iSON, an IT services, Girl Effect and 9mobile.
In a welcome address, the Deputy Country Director, Girl Effect and initiator of the programme, Mrs. Hadeezah Haruna-Usie, said the launch became necessary to help to access the right information and support network around growing young girls.
She said, “Young girls like Lantana can become easy prey for older men. Lantana thought she had found a protector in a bus conductor who regularly bought up her ware, until he lured her into a dark alley. Lantana was too afraid to tell her parents for fear they would blame her and felt she had no choice but to return to the market the next day.
“Lacking access to the right information and support network around her, a young girl like Lantana will lack skills and confidence to make decisions about her own life. And just like young girls anywhere else in the world, she may feel uncomfortable speaking to her immediate family about the everyday challenges she faces.”
Haruna-Usie noted that Girls Connect was devices and developed in Nigeria to help growing young girls get answers to their questions about growing up in challenging circumstances on their own terms and free from any fear of judgment.
In other words, Girls Connect project is an innovative Interactive Voice Response (IVR) mobile service for girls who are burdened and could not open up. She added, “It is a pioneering partnership founded by Girl Effect Nigeria, a creative non-profit organisation that uses media and mobile tech to empower girls in conjunction with the iSON Group- one of Africa’s leading IT and ITeS companies.”
She explained further that to access the platform, girls can dial a number (5512) and choose to listen to a pre-recorded stories with inspiring, engaging and educational content, which they can relate to and learn from.
Also speaking at the event, Chief Human Resources Officer, 9mobile, Mrs. Abigail Isokpan, said the firm’s tradition and passion about developing it’s customers, host communities, the nation, and constantly on the lookout for opportunities to create values were the motivating factor behind the project.
She said one of the ways the company is achieving this is by aligning their business agenda with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“We are particularly passionate about advancing the cause of the girl-child and women, and this we have showcased through a number of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Initiatives”, she stated.