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HER EXCELLENCY DAME JUDITH AMAECHI WIFE OF THE EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF RIVERS STATE AND FOUNDER OF EMPOWERMENT SUPPORT INITIATIVE ON THE OCCASION OF THE AFRICA REGIONAL COLLOQUIUM FOR WOMEN LEADERS AS AGENTS OF CHANGE

28 – 29 March 2012 Ghana, Africa

I am indeed very honoured by your invitation to address a distinguished audience of women leaders who have impacted their countries and the society in their areas of influence.

I feel really honoured to be adjudged worthy of presenting this paper to this audience at a time women across the world are joined together in celebrating the international women’s day. I am very hopeful and wish that at the end of this presentation, I would be able to meet your expectation, knowing quite well that we have in our midst women who are great authorities in gender main streaming and balancing.

It is worthy to note that women are seated in this auditorium to review our goals against our mission, examine ourselves and plan ahead. Let me be the first to acknowledge that I am not oblivious to the challenge to the challenges women in leadership and corporate governance face each day. I am not unaware of the near impossibility of getting our foot in hurt I our quest to reaching the glass ceiling, yet I am very optimistic as I see a beacon of hope for women in leadership, changing the face of governance, politics and ultimately the society in the African continent, the world at large, and especially my country, Nigeria.

Unarguably there is a geometric growth and recognition of untapped resources and talents of women in the African continent. There is also a significant correlation between women leadership acumen and good governance.

Statistics from the inter-parliamentary Union in the last 12 years showed an improvement in women’s representation in national parliamentary globally from 13.1 percent at the end of 1991 to 19.5 percent at the end of 2001. Some regions in Africa have comparative advantage over others. Sub-Sahara Africa has witnessed an increase from 10.8 to 20.2 percent. In Nigeria, we have not fared so well especially in the number of female representation as we witnessed a reduction from 8 percent to a meagre 3.7 percent. The consolatory report is that we have witnessed an improved female representation in parliament especially within the federating units: that is the state and the local government areas.

Distinguished participants, please permit me to share a personal story. In 2007, the governor of Rivers State on his assumption to office found out that very few women vied for election into the state and national assembly, while one woman won a seat to the National House of Representatives, and four won election to the state House of Assembly.

We also had one female vice chairman, with 16 female councillors. At the party structure, there were only two female members of the state executive committee, one of whom was the state woman leader.

My husband and I were very worried on this situation, realizing how much contribution women have made to national development. Following the leadership example of Dame Patience Jonathan, wife of Nigerian President and with the active support of my husband who is an advocate of 35 percent affirmative action and a believer of 50 – 50 equal support of key stakeholders including the leadership of the party at the state level and made widespread consultation with the legislative organ, the state House of Assembly to formulate policies that will encourage and support women’s political aspiration and participation in politics.

The governor on his part appointed women to sensitive positions and caused the party to give waivers to female aspirants. The results of this modest effort was a 150 percent in the number of women councillors, from 16 to 52. We were also able to get an elected female chairman, first time since the creator of Rivers State as well as two vice chairmen, one of whom is a deputy mayor of our capital city local government.

At the federal level, the governor was able to increase the number of female parliamentarians from one to two. These gains are a good beginning and also attest to the fact that it would take sustained partnership with gender sensitive government like the Rivers State government under the able leadership of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi to see the changes women would like to make in the society. Yet change is not all about political leadership, but about what we do as women leaders.

For instance, women are the direct victim of poverty and worse hit in the wake of challenges threatening the family. This situation is worse in regions where the local economy is disrupted or destroyed by economic exploratory activities which in turn degrade the environment. The story of Nigerian Niger Delta is no longer new to many here as the rate of moral decadence and criminality triggered by abject poverty and militancy is on the rise. These social vices have become a way of life for a child who sees violence as a means to an end.

Addressing this challenge of long years of perceived injustice in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria with a view to proffering solutions is the strength of sustainable development which lies in the promise of a better tomorrow.

Our children represent the future that should be protected. For the purpose of this colloquium and in line with the Theme for the 2012 International Women’s Day “CONNECTING GIRLS, INSIRING FUTURES and UNDP’s focus on gender equality and women empowerment, a pathway to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, I wish to speak on THE GIRL- CHILD EDUCATION: THE ESI PERSPECTIVE.

The Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI) is a non-governmental organization envisioned to provided leverage to children, youth and women who within the society are marginalized, vulnerable and poor. Consequently, interventions have been put in

The Concept OF Girl-child Education

Withinthe context of the Nigerian environment, several definitions of thee child exist. The Child Rights Acts of 2003 defines a child as a person who has not attained the age of eighteen.

In the African context, the girl-child is seen as a young female person, who would eventually grow into a woman and marry. She is conditioned to look after the young ones, the home and the kitchen. She is taught to be obedient and to internalize the notion that she is someone’s property and responsibility. She is her parent’s property and responsibility at childhood and her husband’s in adulthood. The gender apartheid places the girl-child in a disadvantage position. Her potential is suppressed and self-actualization is not achieved.

Education is the process of providing information to an inexperienced person to help her develop physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, spiritually, politically and economically.             Thus, the Girl-Child education is the process of equipping and providing structured information to the girl-child with the primary purpose of developing them mentally, socially, emotionally and physical, as well as laying the foundation that would form the bedrock of transmitting values that will prepare them to face the challenges posed in the chauvinist society that they grow up in.

ISSUES

The girl-child belongs to a critical segment of the general population who for many reasons such as gender polarization and biological essentialism among others, has suffered high level marginalization, discrimination, sexual abuse and sometimes total neglect which has contributed to gender inequality and imbalance in various spheres of human endeavour.

Statistics show that many girls are not enrolled in school. The global figure for out of school children is estimated at 121 million, 65 million are girls, with over 80 percent of these girls living in sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria (UNICEF,2007).

The right to education, which is a fundamental human right, is frequently denied to girls in some Africa countries. The then United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, stated that in Africa, when families have to make a choice, due to limited resources of educating either a girl or a boy child, it is always the boy that is chosen to attend school.

Research has shown that millions of girls do not have access to education despite concerted efforts to push the cause forward.

A report from UNCIEF A-Field made up of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross Rivers, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers States of Nigeria, has identified that child labour, poverty, lack of sponsorship, quest for wealth, bereavement, truancy, broken home, engagement of children as house helps, are some of the factor or the clog in the wheel of children’s access to education.

According to World Bank report (2003) more than350 million people, over half of Africa’s population, live below the poverty line of one dollar a day. This implies that poverty, too, excludes children, including the girl-child, from school.

In some African countries like Ethiopia, girls are sometimes abducted for marriage when they are no more than eight years.

 

Justification for Girl-child Education

There is an adage that says, “educate a man, you educate an individual, but educate a woman, you educate a nation.” The above summarizes the essence of education to the girl-child and indeed to every educable human being, and so calls for special attention to be focused on education of the girl-child. No nation can afford to toy with the education of her citizens, especially the child who will be the father or mother of tomorrow, because education is the bedrock of all facets of development.

Families, especially the children benefit from having a mother with formal schooling because from a number ofstudies, the survival, health and school performance of children have been shown to be clearly linked to the mother’s education attainment.

Research from Nigeria and Mexico indicates that one of the strongest predictors of a child’s survival beyond its first year is the mother ‘s level of education.

An Educated girl-child would become an informed woman in the future who is passionate about the health and well-being of her families. Since every citizen benefits from the result of the education of her fellow citizen and since every generation receives its education from an older generation, every generation has a duty to reciprocate by bequeathing the new generation with quality education.

Children are leaders of tomorrow and mothers are guardians of the future, and the first aim of every family and society should be to raise healthy and productive individuals.

Considering the issues that border on limitation to girl-child education, ESI as an NGO whose focused is on the women and youth empowerment have laid emphasis in developing strategies to complement the effort of Government and other development partner that champion this cause with emphasis in the following areas:

  • Designed a Nursey program that is rural based subsequently creating a smooth transition from home to school with increase enrolment for girl-child. To create access to education it is proposed that 319 school’s will be established in 319 wards of Rivers State and this model has no doubt brought education closer to the rural populace at a very affordable cost.

Impact Continues

  • So far about 2455 girls from the rural areas of Rivers State have benefited from ESI Nursery School,
  • Scholarship to some indigent and street children (girls) at Secondary school level
  • Scholarship to about 50 female students in Tertiary Institutions under the auspices of Rivers State Government
  • Skills acquisition to about 61 young female school leavers to acquire City & Guilds Certificates in different vocations.
  • Participation/ presentation of a paper on “Access to Education of Girls- A right or A Privilege” at the 55 parallel Event organized by Commission on the Status of Women, United Nations Head Quarters, New York between February 22 to March 03, 2011
  • Adopt A Child Initiative

This is an educational support programme designed to source for donation and grants from well-meaning individuals and organizations for the sponsorship of early childhood education in our rural communities. This has no doubt address the economic factors that limits the down trodden in our society. Among the children adopted, about 59% are girls

  • Feed A Child Program

ESI Feed a Child Initiative is a nutrition based programme designed to promote good eating habits, inculcate value for good nutrition from childhood and provide one balance meal a day to a good number of vulnerable children in the rural communities of Rivers State through the ESI Nursery School.

 

ESI’S Milestones on Early Childhood Care Development and Education

  • Establishment of 73 Temporary Nursery School sites in74 communities of twelve (12) LGAs in RIVERS State
  • Twenty (20) permanent sites ESI Nursery School fully completed
  • Thirteen (13) permanent sites are under different stages of construction.
  • Provision of access to quality education to about of 4,188 pupils
  • Graduation of 1081 pupils from this scheme between July 2010. Research carried out showed that these pupils are doing better than their counterparts in the rural areas who were not exposed to this form of education.
  • Provision of employment to about 250 Teachers and about 100 Minders / Caregivers and Cooks (mostly women and young ladies) from the host communities.
  • Training of 936 teachers with the Cambridge module (TKT)for specialized module and instructions of children age 3-6

Convened the first and second national conference on Kindergarten Education in Nigeria in October 2010 and 2011 to institutionalize the process and set a stage for the development of Kindergarten Education in Nigeria. This conference is geared towards Sensitization on a National and Local level to create awareness for the early childcare and development education.

Mobilization of the community to participate in the affairs of these schools because they are rural based.

Sensitization programme on the Importance of good nutrition to the development of children/introduction of Feed-A-Child Programme, April 5th, 2011                                       De-worming, Weight and Height measurement of ESI pupils.                                         Declaration of Child Road Safety in collaboration with Federal Road Safety Commission – December 05, 2011.

Other Areas of Intervention  

ESI has also broken grounds in areas of micro economic activities and capacity building with the girl-youth as our target group as exemplified in the under listed programmes:

Women empowerment through micro credit schemes like the ESI LADY CABBIES SCHEME (first organized female taxi scheme in Nigeria) that has empowered 113 women through the provision of taxis to less privileged girl-youth and women beneficiaries. Skills acquisition to about 61 young female school leavers to acquire City & Guilds Certificates in different vocations. Entrepreneurial and Livelihood Support Programmes for youth and women.Maternal and Infant health support.

CONCLUSION

As stated earlier, education – especially girl-child education is central to the development and improvement of the nation’s wellbeing and it has a direct and proven impact on the goals related to child and maternal health and environmental sustainability. Thus, investment in girl-child education benefits the individual, society, and the world as a whole.

The various dimensions of ESI ECCDE, require huge support so that wider access can be provided to more children (especially the girl-child) in the rural communities of Rivers State in Niger Delta and Nigeria at large.

It is on this premise that we seek to enter into strategic partnership with development Partners such as the commonwealth and other visionary groups to raise awareness on this malady that has had adverse effect on the development efforts of Government within the region and also use this opportunity to seek for support to enable us push for national attention on the need to create an enabling environment for the education of the girl-child.

 

It has been Identified that some of the factors that impede the girl-child education include:

  • High poverty rate especially within the rural communities.
  • Access to formal education
  • Culture and belief system that relegates women to the background.
  • Early marriage

 

 

With this in mind, Empowerment support Initiative had identified the need to organize a West African regional conference using the platform of our national conference on Early Childhood Care Development and Education (ECCDE) to address the issues of girl-child education, and use the medium to generate the much-needed awareness on the consequences of overlooking this significant segment of our nations’ agents of development as well as enjoin stakeholders not to relent in the crusade.

I cannot conclude my speech without informing this honourable audience that I see women in leadership changing the face of governance, politics, business and society especially in my country Nigeria.

Following the leadership example of Dame Patience Jonathan wife of the President and First lady of Nigeria and with the active support of my husband the executive governor of Rivers State, I have used my position to embark on a massive public enlightenment campaign and advocacy with key stake holders to support women political aspiration and participation in politics. This will in no doubt help in formulating policies that would advance and protect the right to education of the girl-child and enthrone gender democracy.

I thank you for your time and this opportunity.

Dame Judith Amaechi

Founder ESI.

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