Saving Alice and Alicia.
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Written by Ajoke Adebisi.
In September, 2000, the member states of the United Nations made a passionate commitment to address the crippling poverty, hunger and diseases that grip many areas of the world, and also, stimulate sustainable development. Amongst the eight Millennium Development Goals, Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment are considered by leaders in the international community, a specific focus as they are central to all other development goals. Gender Equality is a state or condition that affords women and men equal enjoyment of human rights, socially valued goods, opportunities and resources. Equality means expanded freedoms and improved quality of life for all people. (USAID, 2013; IGWG, 2013).
About 3 years ago, I did malaria research work at Kuje local government area, Abuja Nigeria. As I collected data from 68 households in Tukuba, Kuje, I observed that a majority of the households had lost at least one child to a preventable disease. I met a 17 year old Gbagyi girl Alice, who at the time of my visit lost her 2 year old child, Alicia to diarrhea. Alice never got the chance to any formal education because she is a girl. Rather, she was married off to a man at a young age. “There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls”- Kofi Annan. One of the key and most significant tools to attain gender equality is the education of girls. Girls and boys should have equal rights to basic education.
Many African Countries including Nigeria has yet to realise that investing in the girl child is primary to jump start all other development. Rather than recognised as every child’s right, in countries like Nigeria, education is simply seen as “a good thing”, not as an important thing, as a result parents do not realise their child have a right to education and the government have the obligation to ensure this right is protected. In addition, due to selfish interest and the lack of political will, education looses out and as a result of the often subtle gender discrimination that runs through most societies, girls are the last to be enrolled and the first to be withdrawn from school. It is high time Nigeria recognised education of girls and empowerment of women as a development tool. Decades of research show ample evidence of the link between the expansion of basic education for girls and economic development. South East Asia and Latin America (at least until the 1980s debt crises) showed higher levels of economic development as a result of their long term investment in girls’ education (The state of the world’s children, 2004). Countries that fail to increase the education level of women to the same as that of men will in turn increase their development efforts and pay for the failure with slower growth and reduced income per family which in turn, limits the available resources of parents to provide quality education for their children putting the girl child at risk as she poses to be more disadvantaged due to persistent societal gender discrimination. This results in yet another cycle of a reduced labour force and therefore an increased cost of the country’s development efforts. Furthermore, children of educated mothers are much more likely to go to school. This multiplies benefits not only for the mother and her child, but also for the society in a constructive intergenerational effect. Gender Equity and health objectives are mutually reinforcing.
Earlier this year, the discussion about child marriage moved from human rights to that of health education. Child marriage up till date is a hot button issue in Africa and Nigeria. Although the Child’s Right Act(2003) enacted in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and domesticated in 23 of the 36 states in Nigeria bans marriage or betrothal before the age of 18, Federal Laws competes with a decade of state-level sharia laws in Muslim states and a decade of old age customs. In the development community, studies show that child marriage is linked to poverty. Of course if marriage takes the place of the education of a girl child, she becomes a liability to the society, with low-status, lack of power, lack of mobility and also unemployment, increasing societal poverty rate. Financial resources, education and power are fundamental to a woman’s capacity to access health facility, use health information and negotiate and insist on safe sex practices. Aside from poverty, a lot of reproductive health problems such as unintended pregnancies, maternal mortality, vesico vagina fistula, gender based violence and the feminisation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are directly linked to unequal gender power relations. In addition, when a society ensures that mothers are educated, it ensures that children are healthier. Children of educated mothers tend to be better nourished and get less sick often. Each extra year of a mother’s education reduces the rate of mortality for children under five, which has been a serious development problem. Investing in Alice is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. Let us Arise, Let us save Alice to save Alicia.