Nigerian Female Leaders Call For Improved Access To Education For Girls
By Jennifer Ehidiamen
As the world marks international day of the girl child, Nigerian female leaders have called for an increase in efforts to ensure barriers hindering girls from achieving their full potential are removed.
Education is the fastest tool for social and economic mobility, says Dr Oby Ezekwesili, the Senior Economic Adviser for Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative at Open Society Foundation. While speaking during a one day programme organized by United States Consulate General Public Affairs Section in Lagos yesterday, Mrs Ezekwesili noted that countries leading in the global economy are those who have realized the importance of empowering girls to reach their full potential and contribute to the development of their communities.
“Women from the development process is really about the resource that their existence leave for nations, for families, for companies, for communities, every human being is a resource,” she said. “And so when you exclude the girl-child and the women from the activities of families, of communities, of societies of economies, you are essentially depriving those entities of the contribution that should make them progressive.”
While addressing the audience during the event, another speaker, Mrs Bisi Olateru-Olagbebi, the Executive Director of Women Consortium Nigeria (WOCON), said that girls in Nigeria are faced with a lot of challenges that limit their access to education.
Early marriage, child labor, child trafficking, female genital mutilation were some of the highlighted barriers to girl-child education.
“All these things are what are contributing to the fact that Nigeria has the highest number of children who are out of school in the whole world,” said Mrs Olateru-Olagbebi.
Children under 15 years of age account for about 45 per cent of the Nigeria’s population. According to UNICEF, 40% of Nigerian children between six to eleven years of age do not attend any primary school, particularly the girls. It is estimated that about 10.5 million children are still not in school in Nigeria. And out of this number, about 5.5million are girls. In the North particularly, the gender gap remains particularly wide and the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from 1 girl to 2 boys to 1 to 3 in some States [source: UNICEF].
Ezekwesili noted that some of the ways to remove the constraints limiting girls was to ensure they have access to quality health and education opportunities by revamping domestic policies to favor the girl-child.
Although there are laws and policies that favor the girl-child education, some of them lack implementation, Mrs Olateru-Olagbebi said.
“We have a national policy on education 1977, we have an endorsement of the declaration for the eradication of mass illiteracy. What have we done about it? We have the universal basic education of 1992, we also re-launched it in 1999 so that all school children from the age of 6 to 15 can acquire education up to at least junior secondary school,” she said.
During the just concluded National Conference, Mrs Olateru-Olagbebi said that she served as the sub-chair for the gender sub-committee and the chair for the social committee that focused on the education policy.
Some recommendations were made to the Federal government on how to improve opportunities for the girl-child.
“We said for the girl child, the government and NGO should encourage greater enrolment, retention and completion of school by children,” said Olateru-Olagbebi.
The committee also recommended that parents should be provided with economic incentive programmes that will encourage them to send their girls to school. Adding that the government should provide adequate securities for schools to reduce the incidence of kidnapping and harassment children face in a bid to access education.
On the case of Boko Haram’s capture of 219 schoolgirls in North Eastern Nigeria, Mrs Olateru-Olagbebi described it as a monumental shame.
“They have been in captivity by the heinous criminals of Boko Haram for over 160 days now and the world appears helpless. This is the collective failure of all civilized society,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr Oby Ezekwesili said that her continuous advocacy for the release of the Chibok girls is to reassure young girls that embracing education is the right thing to do.
In her words:
Some local NGOs are working to improve access to education. A team from Oando Foundation present at the event said they work in collaboration with public schools and organizations to award scholarship to girls in poor communities in Nigeria to ensure they complete their secondary education.