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Do the internally displaced and abducted school girls celebrate International Women’s Day?

Published 06 Mar,2021 via The Nation - The international Women’s day is two days away. While it is not all gloom and sad news for the Nigerian woman given the recent global focus on the new Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and some of the Nigerian women that made it into the cabinet of President Joe Biden, a lot needs to be done for the future of the Nigerian girl child.

The fight for the progress of any nation must be anchored on the vision the country has for its young ones. Education and health should be the two most important sectors of any economy that is looking to a better developed future. That is not implying that infrastructural development and other ancillary sectors do not matter.

However, as the global focus turns to the women and girls in this month of March, the women of Nigeria wish as always to draw attention to the things that matter; the poverty, the insecurity, the illiteracy, the child marriages and all those actions that impede the development of both the girl-child and women.

The recent abduction of almost three hundred school girls in Jangede in Zamfara state coming on the now perennial abductions of school children from Chibok, Dapchi, Kankara, Bini Yadi and others says a lot about the Nigerian security and education system going forward. The Roundtable Conversation feels that beyond the negotiations, releases and rescues, the grave damage to the education sector by the abduction of innocent school children in a country with the global highest of out-of school children is an ill-wind that blows no one any good.

The focus of all tiers of government in this women’s month must be how to restore the confidence of parents, children, teachers, communities and other caregivers in the education sector while working harder to fix the security infrastructure.

The Roundatable Conversation sat with Dolin Holt the founder of Caprecon Foundation that has for the past thirteen years been caring for some women and girls in IDP camps across the country. He decries the impact of displacement on women and girls in the IDP camps. To him, the impact of insecurity on the lives of women cannot be overemphasized. Already in the country, the number of displaced women and girls is too huge and comes with a multitude of other problems.

His foundation has been on ground and noticed that the displaced women and girls are not just victims of displacement. They are further victimized and their problems further exacerbated by predators. Their caregivers often take advantage of the girls and women who are hungry and desperate to feed their children. Some of the women are sexually violated in exchange for food. Hungry and desperate, human lives get cheapened as some of them in a bid to survive often submit to the indignities of violations and trafficking.

The Caprecon Foundation also helps the women and their children to get into the makeshift schools around but there is still a huddle, when parents can’t even care for themselves, education becomes a luxury and no, education should and must not be a luxury. The urge to survive supersedes the hunger for education. So because most of the parents at the IDP camps are already traumatized, sending their children off to school is one risk they fear to take because there always seems to be an Armageddon next door.

According to Dolin, beyond the IDP camps and the family units across the country are disintegrating because in most cases men are either killed or abducted living the families in disarray. There can’t be progress when the greater number of women and girls in any state live in fear and suffer constant sexual, physical, psychological and economic abuses.

He believes that governments at all levels must brace up especially as the world celebrates the International Women’s Day to step back and realize that women and girls are the pillars of the future because one gender cannot keep the world running. Each gender has its natural roles that cannot be undertaken by the other.

The impact of abductions and kidnappings on the psyche of both children and their parents is a clear keg of gun powder for the country. He fears that already even without conflicts, poverty and ignorance have been keeping children off schools. The impact of the series of abductions would ultimately be the last nail in the coffin for a developing country like Nigeria. No parents want their children to be victims so they would rather keep them illiterate and alive than sending them to school to be abducted.

The hunger to get children educated might wane across the country as insecurity takes an upper hand. Dolin feels that it is not too late for governments at all levels to put education and security nthrough careful planning and investment.

In a country that has one of the highest levels of girl child illiteracy, the incessant abduction of girls from schools can only worsen the situation and no government can make any developmental leap without very well educated women. An educated girl has a million and one advantages as she gets to become a woman, she delays childbirth, has a number of children she can raise properly and gets to be productive for the development of the country.

The Caprecon Foundation understands the strategic import of displacements and lack of education for every child across the globe and that informs the choices they made at inception to provide the psychological succor for the vulnerable and displaced. They believe that just providing materials for the camps is not enough because most of the people especially women in the IDP camps are broken in ways that some of them are suicidal given the ubuses they face on a daily basis.

A woman that is already homeless, constantly raped will bear kids she can neither feed, nurture nor educate and the children if they ever survive grow up to be ready recruits for the insurgents that put their parents in the worse conditions and the cycle of poverty goes on. That there is lack of growth for the economy is because there is widespread poverty which can be tackled with better attention to security and education.

Food security all over the word is dependent on the ability of a nation to maximally provide for the agricultural sector and a great part of that provision is through security. In a developing nation like Nigeria where the agricultural sector contributes a great percentage to the nation’s GDP, insecurity for the women who make up to 70% of the agricultural work force would spell famine.

There is a reason the United Nation agencies and other global bodies invest in the development of women and girls. As a global participant, Nigeria must re-evaluate the attention it pays to its women and girls. The protection of lives and property of each citizen lies with every tier of government.

As the global body rolls out its cymbals to celebrate women this March, governments across Nigeria must wake up to protect the highest victims of insecurity in the country – girls and women. The global pandemic has worsened the plight of women and girls as global economies continue to surfer due to the impact of the pandemic. It is pertinent that the International Women’s Day becomes a re-awakening moment for Nigeria.

For too long, religious and socio-cultural issues have made life tough for most women nationally. The global pandemic has added the proverbial salt to injury as more women and girls are now mo, re now poorer, exposed to domestic violence, lost their means of livelihood, more are losing their lives as care givers, being kidnapped, victims of banditry and herdsmen attacks both in their homes, farms or other places or work.

Leaving girls and women as perennial victims of an unplanned system where their lives are not safe and secure would always birth chaos and economists and development experts have constantly pointed the way forward for nations through their agencies. From cradle to grave, the girl child seems a victim of its own existence as the adults that are supposed to protect her often turn her into a permanent victim. Many nations that have understood the contributions of women to development are some of the countries with the best standards of living. They have long understood that when every citizen is invested in, they all become optimally productive.

It is very instructive that most of the nations struggling with development are mainly the countries where the girls and women have to battle too many socio-religious nuances that often impede development. Those that insist on the mantra, “train a woman and you train a nation” have in those words buried the true value of protecting women and girls and investing in their development.

It is an irony that Nigeria is so blessed yet so poor as the lives of its women seem to be one of the most challenged in the world. Education for the girl child must not be negotiable. It is sad that the Chibok girls abduction merely opened the floodgates to more abductions of Nigerian children both boys and girls.

The International Women’s Day as a global moment of celebrating womanhood must not be a mere happenstance .The country must make everyday matter for the Nigerian girl that grows into the woman that would add value to national development. This can only be possible when they are educated, protected and healthy.

The Roundtable Conversation wishes that all tiers of government in Nigeria would take the first step to re-ordering the lives of women and girls in ways that their lives matter, that the governments realize that when a woman is not free, no man is free because the man comes from a daughter, a mother, a sister or a niece. The chain of development can’t hook without the input of the girl that grows into a woman.

The dialogue continues…

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