Adaobi Onyejike-Ananaba, 40, is an artist and social advocate. She sits at the helm of the Girl Child Art Foundation. From a child’s viewpoint and personal experience, she saw a society that placed lesser value on the girl child, and that set her in motion to make an asset of herself as well as other women.
In this interview, Ananaba tells Daily Sun why she chose art as a tool for education and empowerment of the girl-child.
How long have you been into advocacy for the girl-child?
I started in 2002 and have reached over 250,000 boys and girls. Our main stakeholders are young girls. We have programmes for boys and girls, parents and teachers, from time to time. So, we have a mixed beneficiary list.
Why did you infuse arts in addressing the issues of the girl child?
I chose arts because it is my area of speciality. I use art because it sets me apart from other people. It has always been different. Unlike, today where everything art is adored, when we started, art was not a popular tool or subject appreciated by parents. I chose art because it is the freest and most friendly tool for learning.
Many did not understand the relationship between the girl-child and arts. But I was looking for liberation through art. I was looking for freedom, and art gives the clearest form of freedom to enhance creativity, innovation and build strength. In arts, there is no failure. Whatever you dish out is seen as your expression.
Most of such initiatives are offshoots of personal experience; what was your motivation?
What was very popular when we started was women empowerment. From my perspective, I felt it was chasing the wind trying to change the mindset of a 35-year-old woman. I felt the focus should be on the young girl to help her understand where she belongs from an early stage.
Another thing that drove my girl child project was growing up in a family of eight children and watching my mother struggle to get a male child even if she had to get to her 10th pregnancy. I was the first daughter among six girls and two boys. I did not understand why my gender was not valued. So, all I thought about was, how do we to make impact and make a name for ourselves as women?
Does the girl child have access to quality education to support development in society?
The first question is whether or not we have quality education in Nigeria. Go to public schools and you would find that the children are not being educated actually. They are just going to school. There is a difference between a child going to school and a child that is learning.
Having worked with a lot of schools and taken my time to observe schools in Lagos State, there are lots of restrictions. They don’t allow people go in and do programmes, which is a sign that people are trying to cover their flaws, whether directly or indirectly. Quality education is not just putting a child in a compound and saying you have put the child in school. It includes ensuring the child gets to school, understands what is being taught, and teachers are paying attention to individual pupils in their class. It is a comprehensive work. Some parents don’t even know if their children’s school uniforms are washed.
Following a leadership project for young girls in Nigeria that I was involved in, I observed that some older girls in government schools here in Lagos could not spell simple words that my five-year-old son could spell. For instance, when you read out a sentence, they can’t write. They are ready to copy at every instance. And somebody would sit somewhere to say that they have given them education? That, for me, is not education but fraud.
Who is to blame for the dwindling fortunes in our education sector?
Fundamentally, it is the parents and their style of parenting. I say so because parents are not paying attention. If all parents pay attention to their children’s educational welfare the way we were brought up, where mothers knew that you must wash your clothes, iron them and make your shoes clean, when mothers took time to check what their children studied and knew when the child lied about his or her activities in school, and that way the teachers would sit up. The present advocacy for children not be flogged and disciplined when they err is a serious issue and that encourages them into bad habits.
Parents should go back to the drawing board and train their children the way some of us were trained. Not all of us were trained well, though, but we should begin to discipline our children. I am not talking about just beating your child. I am talking about you paying attention to your children in detail. If you notice anything, you call the teacher and demand redress. The teacher would sit up knowing that if he makes an error in the child’s books, the parents would see it and ask questions. So, the system fails when parents relax in their duties.
How do you build self-esteem and confidence in your focused gender?
Most of our girls come in very shy. Our programmes help girls build confidence in themselves. They loosen up and begin to feel that they are relevant. Girls whose morale has been killed because they fail in the class are invigorated to know that there are other things they can be good at and those things can also bring them fame and fortune. We use art, singing, dancing, drawing, and painting, among others. In art, there is no restriction. A girl should be trained to believe in herself. Lack of self-esteem is the more reason they get raped, most of the time.
Who is a confident woman?
A confident woman is one who believes in herself and is bold enough to defend it. It is something developed from the environment where you are and who you associate with. A woman can overcome low self-esteem by disconnecting from anyone who puts her down, and ensuring that she has something doing, unless she has support from her husband. Some women’s confidence lies in cosmetics and heavy make-up. Confidence comes from within. It is an innate quality.
The ideology of feminism makes most women think that they should share responsibility with the men. What is your view?
The traditional role of a woman is to manage her home. I am not failing in mine and I will never fail. I encourage other women to do the same. In case you are working, your husband can help to make it easier. There should be an understanding. My little secret is that I took seven years of the earliest part of my marriage to concentrate on it and ensure my home was stable. It was a decision I made as a young girl to get a system that works in my home before running helter-scatter.
Let the men chase the money. They want the women to chase the money and still come back to do the (house) work. This is why some have sexual problems in marriage, because the women are overworked. When a woman is always out of the house, in the name of career, a lot happens in her absence. Don’t forget that children, particularly girls, grow very fast and make crazy decisions; and when you are not there, as a mother, you might live to regret certain things.
What is your advice to young parents in bringing up their kids?
Proper parenting is not a muscular feat. It is essentially based on wisdom. Build a relationship with your children. We chase money so much these days that we lose focus. Being a career woman does not mean you should not pay attention to your home. That you have a shop, experience Lagos traffic or that you are busy does not mean you should not pay attention to your children. I see so much on the field. Kids these days are exploring how to have sex at age nine; they know about drugs and the impacts because parents leave the television on without caring about what their kids are watching. There is no control. Female children dance like prostitutes and their parents clap for them. And some give their children seductive cloths and costume and think it is fashionable. Let us check what we are emulating.
We live a very hypocritical life in this country and it is affecting the entire system. Some parents do not know when their daughters start menstruating and talking to boyfriends. Meanwhile, the mother is in church preaching to others.
What should government do to address the issue of education?
First of all, we do not run a honest system. What we run is a vindictive system. If we run a system of honesty, we will see that the policy we have put in place is not effective. Government should adopt honesty in what they do. This is fundamental. Government should have empathy as it would make us do the right things, including discipline.