11 October has been set aside annually by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) to celebrate the girl child. Designating a day to honour the girl child becomes very important not because the boy child is not equally unique but because marginalization is more rampant among the girl child across various races, tribes and cultural settings.
In the world, millions of girls are denied the privilege of education as they are discriminated against, ignored or forced into early marriages. Girls are often regarded as second class citizens and brainwashed to think that they are worthless and useless without their male counterparts.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted as a policy agenda for gender equality by countries of the world in 1995 to end discrimination against girls. Although, some remarkable improvement in the quality of lives of girls has been reported after 25 years of adoption, however, there remain very high mountains to surmount considering the increase in poverty level, humanitarian crises and the recent adverse effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
The annual celebration of the International Day of the girl child is, therefore, imperative to assess the progress on gender equality and to reawaken further, stakeholders including ‘GIRLS” to uphold the mandates of the Platform for Action.
The mandates for the Platform for Action stimulates that all stakeholders within the globe should ensure that:
• All forms of discrimination against girls are eliminated
• Negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls are abolished, such as Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage
• Promotion and protection of the girl child’s right and creation of awareness on their potentials and needs.
• Discrimination against girls’ education, skills development, and training should be abolished.
• Discrimination against girls’ health and nutrition should be eliminated
• All forms of child labour should be eliminated, and young girls’ protection at work should be encouraged.
• Violence against girls, such as RAPE, should be eradicated.
• Promotion of girls’ awareness and participation in social, economic, and political life
• The role of the family in improving the status of girls should be strengthened.
In my opinion, if the purpose of a thing is not known, then abuse is inevitable. It then becomes crucial for the global community to understand the uniqueness of the girl child in society to uphold the mandate on gender equality.
Role of the Girl Child
a. The girl child/woman is pivotal to the reproduction and nurturing of future leaders in our society.
b. The preservation of the coming generation is mainly dependent on the girl child/woman. The impact of lack of financial or educational empowerment of a girl child/woman is directly related to her offsprings’ negative outcome. The health, nutrition, psychosocial, and formal training of a child is the woman’s sole responsibility.
c. The girl child/woman is a significant determinant of any community or nation’s socio-economic status and contributes to national development.
d. The girl child/woman is naturally gifted to multiply raw materials in her possession. There is a general belief that “when you educate a man, you educate one, but when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”
e. A girl child is endowed to significantly influence those around her wherever she lives, works or plays.
Having laid the foundation of the girl child’s roles, it beholds on the global community, especially major stakeholders to understand their roles and responsibilities in promoting gender equality to maximize the potentials of the girl child in the society.
The roles and responsibilities of major stakeholders in the promotion of gender equality
• Government: the roles of Government are fundamental to the actualization of the mandate on gender equality. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of Government are crucial to ensure the following;
a. Provision of affordable and quality education to the girl child.
b. Policy formulation to protect the girl child’s right as it concerns education, health, nutrition, freedom of choice of who, when and how to marry etc.
c. Enactment of laws forbidding cultural practices and gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation, bullying, rape, child trafficking, and child marriage etc.to protect the girl child.
d. Enforcement of laws and maintenance of law and order to promote gender equality
e. Punishment of law offenders on gender equality without any form of prejudice.
f. Provision of enabling environment free of crimes to promote the healthy growth of the girl child.
g. Provision of job opportunities for the girl child to enhance her socio-economic independence and empowerment.
h. Public mobilization and enlightenment on laws protecting the girl child’s right to promote healthy practices on gender equality. It is, however, vital that more emphasis is placed on the punishment for law offenders to dissuade unhealthy practices.
• Security Agents; Security operatives are expected to work in conjunction with the Government to bring justice and sanity to the society by upholding the laws promoting gender equality. Security operatives should arm themselves with the requisite knowledge to uncompromisingly act in defence of the girl child.
• Civil Society Organisation; The roles of civil organizations are very pertinent. CSOs are to continuously educate the public about gender equality, including the laws of Government promoting gender equality and equally dispel myths and misconceptions about the girl child. Other functions of CSOs include involvement in advocacy to Government and other stakeholders to support gender equality; provision of constructive feedback to the Government on community implementation report on gender equality as well as collaboration with Government and Security agents to bring law offenders to justice.
• Family: The family is critical to building healthy practices that promote gender equality. The family should appreciate the uniqueness of each child consciously while discouraging the extreme preference for the male child, especially in the African setting. The family should be responsible for training the boy child to respect and care for girls as well as proportionately allocate equal rights to both the girl and boy child. The family is to provide health, nutrition, clothing, shelter and other amenities to their children irrespective of their sexes and vehemently discourage child marriage. Child marriage should never be an option for the alleviation of poverty because the consequences are rather grave. The self-esteem of the girl child should be built deliberately in the family by promoting her mental attitude to believe in her potentials. Likewise, the family should conduct itself exemplarily by avoiding all forms of domestic violence involving women that may encourage gender-based violence among the children. Besides, the family should educate the girl child about her sexual and reproductive health rights and how to protect herself from sexual abuse and molestation. Finally, the family should defend the rights of the girl child whenever she experiences gender-based violence and ensures justice is served to law offenders.
• Schools: schools have roles to play to instil moral values into the students. Teachers should be knowledgeable enough to educate students on gender equality, sexual and reproductive health rights, assist with the development of life-building skills as well as dispel myths and misconceptions regarding gender equality. The schools should discourage all forms of sexual abuse, molestation and bullying against girls. Schools should also mete out appropriate punishment to perpetrators of gender-based violence within the school premises.
• The girl child: Finally, the girl child has a huge personal responsibility to continue to be a voice to reckon with even if all other stakeholders are performing their task regarding gender equality. The girl child must be intrinsically convinced that she is neither a second-class citizen nor a weaker vessel who should be pitied.
For the girl child to remain relevant and not discriminated against, she must;
a. Be an ardent believer in her abilities
b. Travel on the journey of purpose discovery
c. Have a vision for life
d. Know her self-worth
e. Have a positive mental attitude
f. Build her self-esteem and confidence
g. Maximize her strengths and improve on her weaknesses
h. Develop life building skills such as goal setting, decision making, assertive, negotiation, refusal skills.
i. Celebrate her uniqueness
j. Have a tenacious spirit that never gives up
k. Be diligent and hardworking
l. Engage in personal development
m. Be resourceful
In conclusion, the bright EQUAL FUTURE can only emerge when everyone, across all nations, races and tribes stand with the unity of purpose to promote GENDER EQUALITY.
Written by DR YETUNDE OLAGBUJI
Consultant Public Health Physician