Let the Girl-child breathe!

Today has come round again so quick. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s the “International Day of the Girl”, observed on 11th October each year. The theme for 2023 is: Invest In the Girls’ Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being. And although these were the very same issues that were so deeply discussed in AFFIRM Woman’s female students’ conference last month, it is obvious that the challenges still very much exist.

Imagine this scenario:

Abena is a final year student at Maceland High School and intends to run for the post of the Senior Prefect. This morning, she is standing in front of the mirror, getting ready for school.

Be unapologetically powerful and brave. Let no one convince you that there are limits or boundaries to what you can achieve.

Sarah Jakes Roberts

Abena has a habit of reciting this mantra to herself in the mirror every morning. It has helped and is still helping to build her self-confidence. This morning was no exception as she prepared to give her best in preparing to vie for the Senior Prefect position.

Sadly, the day did not go as planned as the position was given to someone else who, as the Vice-Principal announced, “Myself and the other board members believe that Hassan can exercise authority over the students better than Abena. Indeed, he will be able to control both the male and female students”.

Abena feels broken and sad that she wasn’t given a chance, even though she had excelled time and time again in other leadership roles that she has worked in. Not that Hassan wasn’t a good leader, but in this case, she was definitely more qualified than him. More so, everyone else had seen Abena prove her leadership capabilities consistently, but with the school authorities exercising veto power, what could others really do?

This is a real life story (names have been changed) and example of how the girl-child is sometimes deprived of her rights, opportunities, not because of a lack of potential but because she is “female”.

But when will the girl-child get to ‘breathe’ [find her freedom and own her rights]? When will she have the chance to express herself based on competence and not because of her gender?

Here are some key areas where girl-child inequalities are commonly observed:

Education: Girls often face disparities in access to quality education. Factors such as cultural norms, early marriage, and household responsibilities can limit their educational opportunities and career aspirations. This inequality can perpetuate a cycle of limited economic and social empowerment.

Child Marriage: Many girls are forced into early marriages, denying them the opportunity to make life choices and access education. Child marriage often leads to early pregnancies, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and health risks.

Images credit: Building Together: Peer Education Resource Kit for Community Women. Actionaid Nigeria.

Violence and Discrimination: Girls are more vulnerable to various forms of violence, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Discrimination in society can lead to unequal opportunities and limit their personal and professional growth.

Gender-Based Stereotypes: Societal stereotypes and expectations about gender roles can limit a girl’s aspirations and opportunities, reinforcing traditional gender norms.

More about Stereotypes

Have we ever wondered… How do girls perceive the world? They came into it as helpless babies, only to realise they are second place in what matters to them.

A girl should love dolls and play house.

A girl should dream about marriage as her main goal in life.

A girl should not study “manly” courses.

A girl who doesn’t love chores is lazy.

A girl who fits into a certain societal stereotype is “wife” material.

A girl should accept whatever she is given, no matter how little.

When a girl dresses pretty, she’s doing it to impress a boy. When she doesn’t dress up, she’s told that no man will find her attractive.

Goodness, let Girls breathe!

Enough with the stereotypes that box them in. Let girls be girls in the glory of their femininity and the strength of their decisions.

The girl-child needs an equal playing field in life. She needs the same opportunity as her male peers. She should not be told to like “pink” when she likes “blue”. Let her choose!

To everyone – parents, guardians, siblings, teachers – an investment in the girl-child is never wasted because she can also make a difference in the world.

Let’s uphold equity and fairness for each and every girl-child. Girls are made for more.

Huge thanks to Dabira and Priscilla for contributing to this blog post.

Featured image credit to Freepik shows a female student sitting in a classroom and reading a textbook.