Educating the girl child is of enormous benefit to the nation

Aimed at highlighting and addressing “the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights”, October 11 every year has since 2012 been marked as the International Day of the Girl Child. The theme for this year is “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce”, which according to the United Nations marks “the beginning of a year-long effort to bring together partners and stakeholders to advocate for, and draw attention and investments to, the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability”.

As we therefore mark the day in Nigeria, we join in calling on the authorities to work towards the safe return of the remaining Chibok 112 girls as well as that of the lone Dapchi schoolgirl, Miss Leah Sharibu, who was held back by the insurgents on account of her Christian faith. Meanwhile, the benefits of keeping the girl child in school are enormous. An educated woman is likely to ensure some basic level of education for her children, leading to a reduction in national illiteracy rates, and poverty levels in the long term.

However, with about 70 per cent of families living below poverty line, it is no surprise that the girl child is often the first casualty in most rural communities in our country. She is usually the one sent into the streets to hawk, or to go and work as house help for more fortunate families. Even though basic education is free – on paper at least – and some states currently provide one meal a day for pupils, many of the parents also cannot afford to buy for their female wards other essentials which are not provided for under the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme.

For instance, the unsuitability of sanitary facilities such as water and toilets also contribute to keeping girls away from school in several communities and understandably so too. A girl child, dealing with the challenges of attaining puberty, needs a safe place to maintain proper hygiene. Rather than have their monthly periods without such safe places, many girls would rather stay away from school, because to stay in school could mean bearing the embarrassment and taunts that come with having their clothes stained.

One of the advocates for girl-child education in Nigeria and Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman has consistently argued that education must be given top priority if we are to achieve the set objective. “If we make the education of our girls a priority, we make the girls knowledgeable family planners, more competent mothers, more productive and better paid workers, informed citizens, confident individuals and skillful decision makers. With the singular instrument of education, we would have tackled the dangers of poverty, income inequalities, underdevelopment, gender disparities, discrimination, poor education, conflict, gender-based violence and even harmful traditional practices which all combine to diminish the capacity of the woman to make the best of herself”, she said.

Besides, it is also important for critical stakeholders to reflect on the impediment placed on the paths of the girl child in our country. Particularly disturbing is that repeated attacks on schools by the insurgents have created fear in many vulnerable students and their parents and is affecting the attitude to education with Boko Haram (whose guiding philosophy is ‘western education is sinful’) winning the psychological war. Yet, according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), when children are denied opportunity for education “not only are their lives shattered, the future of the nation is stolen.”

On a day such as this therefore, critical stakeholders must understand the imperative of educating and empowering the girl child, and the implications for development.