Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Educate a Woman

You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation."- Brigham Young

Some say having a girl is like tending a neighbours' garden. This is narrow minded and condescending perspective of low sense of value placed on females in our society. This is borne out of the way people react to the arrival of the birth of a baby boy: that of jubilation and in contrast,the arrival of a baby girl is often greeted with muted commiserations from friends and family. If the truth be told, the mother is often made to feel a failure if she does not provide the family with a male and a heir.

It seems to me, a girl is disadvantaged right from the onset. So when I read that the Principal of Ajuwon High School, in Ifo local government area of Ogun State, Mrs. Olufunke Aladeojebi, forcefully examined female students without the consent of the students' parents. I was revolted and enraged. I felt compelled to register my abhorrence and contempt for a system that allows such flagrant abuse of power.

According to sources,the principal is a tough woman who ruled her charges with an iron rod. They say she is a tough disciplinarian, no, I disagree what she is, a perpetual abuser of vulnerable young people. She had the temerity to threaten the students with suspension unless they submitted to this forced internal examination.

Apparently, she took this decision unilaterally because of what she felt was the high level of immorality amongst young people. As always, the young women are to be blamed!

What makes a change was that the children reported their ordeal to their parents, who in turn reported her to the police and led to her suspension.

The state commissioner for education, Segun Odubela, said the ministry had interrogated the principal to give her fair hearing, adding that a five-man panel consisting of officials of both the ministry and teaching service commission (TESCOM) has been set up to further investigate the case and make appropriate recommendations. Call me a cynic, but I don't think anything will come of it, until we change our mindset on how we treat women. Anything short of this is a mockery and travesty of what is a violation of female human rights.

In 1999 in Turkey, when a similar incident occurred and young girls were given forced gynaecological examinations in schools. The country was forced to rescind the controversial law authorising schools to conduct a virginity test on high school female students, when five girls attempted suicide rather than submit to the test.We sureley do not want to subject our children to such desperation and trauma.

If there are any issues regarding the degradation of our society we need not look further than the older generations. We are the role models and the young look up to us for direction. So, the issue at hand should be why is it that our young people becoming alarmingly promiscuous? Is pre- marital sexual activity an indication of societal ills? How do we address this and what are the provisions in place for the young girls to have a meaningful and healthy future?

These are the salient issues that need to be addressed instead of physically and emotionally abusing young and vulnerable children. Unless we look at the way we treat females in our society,we will continue to look for scapegoats, that is the case, where the men,women and the system continue to mistreat our womenfolk and further regress our society. We cannot afford not to educate our girls, and there has to be a conscious effort in order to remove the obstacles that may hinder their education. Otherwise, the barriers to progress and wealth will continue to elude us.

The World Bank stated, that in Nigeria, if, young Nigerian women had the same employment rates as young Nigerian men, they would add 13.9 billion Naira in annual GDP.We need to encourage our young women to live up to their full potential.

The sad fact is one-quarter to one-half of girls in developing counties become mothers before age 18 according to the United Nations Population Fund. The focus should therefore be on health and human rights of girls and women,not this wholesale condemnations and casting spurious aspersions on the young girls' immoralities.

The government should at least channel means and resources into providing formal or vocational education, preventive and treatment programme for adequate family planning, and antenatal services, classes on reproductive and sexual health, STD prevention, contraception, AIDS awareness, and how to seek health care. Women are agent of change and they can effectively make a difference if given the opportunity to reach their potential.

A girl's success is everyone's success so it is a win - win situation. We all will be better off by educating our girls and acting decisively on human right violation crimes against women, only then,can we begin to reduce the cycle of poverty.

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