The 2019 International Day of the Girl Child provides the needed opportunity for world leaders and other stakeholders to examine issues that affect the female gender, especially the girl child. Every year on October 11, which is the International Day of the Girl, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works with girls to amplify their voices and stand up for their rights. This year, under the theme, “GirlForce: Unscripted and unstoppable,” the world celebrates the achievements by, with and for girls since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Despite these achievements, the girl child is still discriminated against in most societies. Some of the harmful cultural practices against women include gender discrimination in homes and workplaces, early marriage, sexual harassment and female genital mutilation. It is worrisome that the girl child still faces these gender-based practices in a 21st Century world. It is so sad that the girl child is still subjected to sexual harassment in Nigeria, especially in universities and other institutions of higher learning. Rape is also on the increase. In some cases, the victims are killed in gruesome circumstances.
Unfortunately, some of these harmful and retrogressive practices against the girl child have been sustained by the various Nigerian cultures and patriarchy. Ironically, those that champion female genital mutilation are mostly women. Since creation, woman is subordinated to man. Many religions teach that the man is the ‘head’ of the woman and the woman should live under his authority. Some people still refer to women as the “weaker sex.” Arising from these assumptions, men control women and assign them societal roles in virtually all cultures.
This can explain why women’s education came long after that of the men. This can also explain the late arrival of women in many professions. When the woman is shielded from the work place, it is seen in many cultures as ‘protecting’ her. When the woman is not enrolled in school, it is based on morality. In most cultures women are confined to the home, the domestic arena.
While it is true that the women of today have come a long way from those dark days, the challenges are still daunting. The female gender, which constitutes at least half of most societies, ought to occupy a special place in the scheme of things in any society that wants to develop. Therefore, we welcome the platform this special day affords world leaders to draw attention to the issues that affect women.
Lack of access to education and healthcare, sexual violence, discrimination in the workplace and choice of careers and early marriages are still rampant, much as we would want to deny them. This is a sad commentary on the evolution of society through the ages.
Over time, laws have been formulated against some of these bad practices against women and especially the girl child, but the problem is with their enforcement. In Nigeria, for example, Section 358 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap77 LFN provides a penalty of 14 years or life imprisonment for rape. But the problem has always been with the burden of proof. If the law is not amended with a view to relaxing the burden of proof of the offence, it may be difficult to secure the much-needed convictions that would make a dent on the number of such cases perpetrated and therefore serve as a deterrent to would-be offenders.
Some victims of rape find it difficult to disclose their experiences. There is the issue of stigma. There is need to tinker with the sexual violence law. Most women would rather suffer in silence, sometimes for life, for such aggravated acts of violence perpetrated on them.
The society is definitely the worse for it. Some of them will never recover from such discriminations and violent acts meted to them in early life. Many of them will not fulfill societal expectations.
For gender parity, all forms of discrimination against the girl child must stop. Therefore, we urge the government and other stakeholders to prioritise matters that affect them. Above all, their education and healthcare should be given urgent attention.