Arya Stark killed the Night King. This will only make sense to fans of Game of Thrones (GOT), which has returned for its eighth and final season, but please bear with me.
Arya Stark’s family was destroyed when she was around 10 years old. She lost her father, mother and two brothers, and for many years did not know the whereabouts of her surviving sister and brother. She moved from place to place, sometimes protected by those who could find a place in their hearts to look out for a harmless little girl.
Arya ended up in the House of Black and White, which was essentially a training programme for assassins. Arya needed shelter, a roof over her head and a place where she could hide from the horrors she had been through. She, however, wanted revenge for her family, so she trained as hard as she could in the strange place. She was taught all the tools of the trade, ranging from aptitude in a variety of weapons, adopting disguises, use of poisons, stealth and moving at the speed of light. There was even a time when she had to fight with no sight at all because she was temporarily blind. It was all part of her training.
Eventually, Arya returned home as a young woman, a fierce warrior whose size could fool anyone into dismissing her or forgetting that she was even in the room. For seven seasons, the Game of Thrones writers and producers had set up a male hero, Jon Snow, to be the one to kill the mystical Night King. Everyone who is a fan of Game of Thrones would have made the same assumption, myself included. As I watched GOT in the early hours of Sunday morning (it is shown at 9pm ET in the United States), I could not believe my eyes when diminutive Arya Stark jumped out of nowhere and landed the blow that finished off the Night King who had been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. Just like that, Arya did the job.
Cyberspace exploded with commentaries about how it was assumed/expected/so sure that Jon Snow, the handsome hero of the show and Arya’s brother, would be the one to save the day. I thought to myself, yes, it is always expected that the heroes will save the day because we hardly ever leave room for the existence of sheroes. If we empower our girls with tools such as education and a belief in themselves, they can conquer the world. They will grow up thinking they can do anything, and they will slay all the many obstacles in their way just as Arya slayed the Night King – discrimination, exclusion, exploitation, abuse, poverty and so on. They will grow up into self-confident women who have control over their own minds, bodies and choices. Last week, I was at the third convocation of Elizade University in Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State.
The best graduating student was a young woman, the same as last year. In addition, most of the First Class degrees went to women. All around me people passed comments such as, “Where are the boys? They need to wake up!”
I know the boys are there and are trying their best, but perhaps the girls have got the message that they need to make use of whatever opportunities come their way, otherwise their lives would be unbearable. People who do not mean well for young women might say to them, “Don’t worry, when you get married, your husband will look after you.”
Anyone who gives a young woman this kind of advice does not mean well for her. I am aware that there are some young women who are increasingly choosing short cuts to success by marrying into leisure and money. It is their choice, as long as they are prepared to live with the consequences of their decision.
I applaud all those parents, particularly those who do not have much, for their investments in the education of their girls. As the rest of the world is making progress, we seem to be regressing in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Not only do we continue to grapple with pandemic levels of violence against women and girls, we are almost invisible when it comes to leadership and decision-making, with barely 5 per cent in the National Assembly.
The implications of not having enough women in leadership positions is that institutions of state can be used to oppress and silence women with very little resistance because there is a dearth of women within these systems to make a difference.
A few days ago, there were reports that some nightclubs were raided in Abuja and up to 70 women were rounded up and arrested for clubbing. Since when did going to a nightclub become a criminal offence? There is no indication that the clubs were raided on a tip-off about any illegal operations such as doing drugs or under-age sexual activities. This is not the first time that women would be harassed on the streets of Abuja for having the audacity to be out at night, it has happened a number of times. None of the men in the clubs was arrested, only the women. This is a national disgrace and it should cease henceforth.
These acts of impunity against women are an indication that we are not wanted in public spaces, unless we are in the company of men. Abuja is the capital city of Nigeria and the last time we checked, there are no laws there that prohibit the freedom of movement of men or women. It is hoped that this would be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities as soon as possible, this aberration needs to stop.
Back to Arya Stark. When she struck the blow that finished off such a major threat to the peace of the planet, I was shocked at first. I did not know it would be her. And then I asked myself, ‘Why not?’ She had the training. The skills. The motivation. The focus. The talent. The relentlessness. The opportunity. This is what all our girls need. Then they will become phenomenal leaders who will never allow the oppression of other women. Have a great week.
• Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers. com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]