Tech non-profit, the Noble Missions for Change Initiative, recently partnered with the World Bank and Accountability Lab Nigeria to convene a roundtable discussion on finding solutions to empower the girl child. The event, themed ‘Empowering girls for a better tomorrow through quality education’, was held at the World Bank office in Abuja on October 14, 2019 in commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child.

Noble Missions is a social enterprise in Nigeria with support from volunteers all over the world. The organisation uses digital tools to advance education in Africa and was a beneficiary of AL Nigeria’s Accountability Incubator 2018/ 2019 cohort.

The objectives and outcomes of the roundtable discussion were:

  • To amplify the importance of girls’ education, improve commitments and foster collaboration from stakeholders;
  • To share knowledge and solutions among stakeholders that can be replicated elsewhere;
  • To recommend proven solutions to the peculiar challenges facing girls’ education in Nigeria;
  • To agree and commit to distributing the communiqué from the discussion to all relevant stakeholders including the National Assembly and Presidency.

During this event, AL Nigeria’s Country Director Odeh Friday delivered a presentation on the role of active citizenship and accountability in improving female education in Nigeria. Recent statistics reveal that children under 15 account for 45% of Nigeria’s population. Though primary school, enrolment has increased in recent years, but one study states that Nigeria still has 10.5 million out-of-school children while another speculates that the number may actually be as high as 13.2 million out-of-school children. Out of this population, 60% are girls.

It can’t be overemphasised that education is a human right. Educating the girl child translates to educating a nation which is peaceful and economically prosperous. Nigeria has the Universal Basic Education (UBEC) Act which guarantees 9 years of compulsory and free education. With this, girls’ primary school attendance has improved, but this has not been the case for girls from the poorest households, especially in rural areas.

Add to this the political culture, deep-rooted gender norms and roles, and the belief that males should dominate public spaces, and it’s easy to see where the challenges lie. It is pertinent to note that though there are policies and laws to improve education for young girls, laws alone are not enough. Issues around gender norms and needs require a change of mindsets for prompt delivery of services and adherence to the law.

In empowering the girl child, active citizenship plays a huge role in advocating for the girl child’s education. Citizens need to understand their roles to engage actively in the process, and this can be spearheaded by exploring the dynamics of civil society engagement. This includes participation and inclusion.

“The process requires empowering citizens to influence decisions from an informed perspective to affect and improve the lives of girls and other marginalised groups, contributing to social justice. Those who demand accountability and those we are seeking to hold accountable must be well-informed and operate from the perspective of the opportunity cost of educating the girl child,” Friday said. For instance, educating young girls has been show to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS, decrease women’s fertility rates, contribute to democratisation and reduce poverty, among other things.

Friday adds that a potential existing platform to explore active citizenship and accountability is the Open Government Partnership in advocating for inclusion, better service delivery and for policy change. Another key factor is identifying and engaging female mentors and role models such as Dr. Magdalene Igbolo and Tubokenimi David, both girl child champions who were in attendance for the discussion and were Integrity Icon Nigeria winners in 2017. Additionally, the government needs to improve security in Northern Nigeria for the girl child in basic schools.

The meeting closed with participants identifying challenges and solutions which will be developed into a communiqué and shared with the relevant authorities as a tool for advocacy.

Some problems identified with girl child education included lack of implementation of the policies introduced to improve child education; children’s lack of access to food; a lack of infrastructure for learning; an outdated learning curriculum and safety concerns among girl children when going to school.

Some suggested solutions to the listed problems included improving girl’s scholarships; pushing for more advocacy for girl children; making classrooms more conducive; focusing on the indirect costs of education such as uniforms and learning materials and employing better qualified teachers.