In an event commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child in mid-October, Aisha Buhari, the wife of Nigeria’s president, promised to campaign for child marriage legislation in a bid to keep young girls in school and out of early marriage. In the same vein, UNICEF, along with the Federal Ministry of Education, have revealed their own intentions to focus their initiatives on girl empowerment in the country.
In expressing her goal, Buhari, who was appointed Grand Patron as High-Level Women Advocates for Girl Child Education in Nigeria, encouraged parents of girls to allow them to have at least 12 years of schooling., Leadership.ng reports. During an advocacy visit by 50 adolescent girls, Aisha Buhari promised to champion for legislation that protects young girls from child marriage and help them get in — and stay in — school:
“No single girl will be left behind in my movement to get every girl into school.”
For about 20 million teen girls in Nigeria, education rates are poor, a phenomenon that increases as one moves further down the socio-economic ladder. Not counting girls’ inadequate education, more than half of 10 million children out of school are female, research reveals according to Judd-Leonard Okafor of All Africa.
With 70% of girls under 18 getting married, according to Action Aid statistics, the key to reducing child marriage rates is in empowerment through education. UNICEF’s Girls’ Education Project, with partial funding from the UK, wants to enroll one million girls in schools over the next five years. The Girls’ Education Project recognizes that empowered, educated girls have better chances at life and a brighter future.
The project runs in the states of Katsina, Sokoto, Niger, Zamfara and Bauchi. Since 2013, the Girls’ Education Project brought about 360,000 young girls in schools in an effort to offer them the resources and skills to ensure a better future for themselves and their families, NGR Guardian News reports. Jean Gough, a UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, highlighted the importance of female education for society’s nucleus, the family and society as a whole:
“Young girls who are educated are better placed to improve their own and their children’s health and chances of survival, and boost their work prospects. It directly translates into the girls being powerful and positive change agents of development.”
Gough added: “Adolescent girls should be empowered through deliberate policies to transform their lives and those around them.”
Buhari’s pledge and involvement in improving education opportunities for underserved girls echoes Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, Kukogho Iruesiri Samson of Pulse notes.