From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
The issue of empowerment of women and the girl child took centre stage in Asaba, Delta State, during the advocacy launch and inception meeting of stakeholders under the Japan-UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) project on Empowerment of Women and Girls in Marginalised Communities for Better Well-Being.
The project, which would be established in Delta, Gombe and Bauchi states, is funded by the Japanese Government with technical support from UNESCO.
Declaring the meeting open, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State admitted that there was still much work to be done in empowering the girl child.
Represented by the Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Patrick Ukah, Governor Okowa lamented that 26 years after the Beijing Declaration, the girl child was still grappling with issues of gender discrimination, crushing poverty, early or forced marriage, identity crisis, social and parental pressure, poor life skills and low self esteem.
‘All these pose a threat to her hopes of financial independence and quality of life, thereby preventing the girl child from maximising her potential,” he said.
Governor Okowa said the empowerment of women through advocacy and education was top on the priority list of his administration.
He said since 2017, there has been equity in school enrollment at the junior and senior secondary levels with gender parity index currently at 1:1.
The governor said more schools have been established in far to reach communities and urban centres to expand access to education, adding that girl children in ‘exceptionally difficult circumstances are catered for under a special programme in five designated inclusive schools with full boarding expenses paid by the state government to enable them continue and complete their education unencumbered.’
He added that his administration has created a Girl Child Empowerment Office with the mandate to train and empower young ladies between the ages of 18 and 30.
The governor said the first cycle of the programme tagged Girls Entrepreneurship and Skills Training (GEST) produced 437 young female entrepreneurs who were resourced with starter packs to commence their businesses.
UNESCO’s Multi-Sectoral Regional Officer, Mr Lamine Sow, in his remarks, solicited for stronger commitment with the government of the partnering states to achieve the desired objectives.
Sow lauded Delta State Government for fulfilling its part of the partnership.
He said the advocacy part of the project would handle sexual and gender-based violence and general marginalization of women.
In a goodwill message, Chairperson of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Delta State, Mrs Pat Gbemudu, commended UNESCO for being at the forefront of promoting youth and adult literacy through evidence based advocacy and fostering partnership in a number of countries and states.
Gbemudu said the target of the project was to ‘raise awareness and improve capacities of women and girls coalition; and guarantee freedom of expression in the context of implementation.’
On his part, the state Chairman of Non-Governmental Association for Literacy Support Services (NOGALSS), Harry Sodje, lamented that despite recent attention to the plight of women and girls, empowerment remained a major issue “because the non-formal education sub-sector is seriously underfunded.
‘The project for the Empowerment of Women and Girls in Marginalised Communities for Better Well-Being through Education and Advocacy, is therefore a welcomed initiative and NOGALSS is delighted to be called upon to support it’s implementation in the benefitting states,’ he stated.