Gender inequality is a socio-cultural phenomenon expressed in the form of a bias that places one lower than the other. Over the years, the world has witnessed remarkable progress in advocacy for gender equality especially for the female folk with positive results – more girls are in school compared to 20 years ago and a higher number of women occupy key positions in business and public service. However, large inequalities persist in some regions, with women and girls systematically being denied the same rights as men and boys. Sexual exploitation, disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination from public office all remain huge barriers that women and girls face.
The United Nations holds the annual International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 to promote girls’ rights and highlight gender inequalities all over the world. The theme for 2021 is “Digital Generation. Our Generation”.
The COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted the world as we knew it, also rocked education systems across the globe. This saw a move to greater use of digital innovation and technology for improved learning, development, and for accelerating achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4, to complement traditional physical classroom learning methods for school-aged children. While the pandemic has accelerated digital platforms for learning, earning and connecting, some 2.2 billion people below the age of 25 still do not have internet access at home and girls are more likely to be cut off, according to UNICEF. It is worthy to note that the gender gap for global internet users grew from 11% in 2013 to 17% in 2019. In the world’s least developed countries, it hovers around 43%.
The gender digital divide should however go beyond connectivity and access to devices, as girls still face having their ambitions questioned. It is only by addressing the inequity and exclusion that span geographies and generations that we can usher-in a digital revolution for all, with all.
Bridge Nigeria, a network of nursery and primary schools in underserved communities in Lagos and Osun States supports thousands of girls to become confident, empowered young women as they progress in learning each and every day. This is because educating girls and ensuring women are educated will have transformative effects at a local, national and global level.
As part of activities to celebrate this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, Bridge hosted some successful women leaders to inspire pupils to dream and reach for the stars, and further enlighten them that every child has the right to be in charge of their future and to be successful in any career of their choice. These women leaders are Mrs Lola Esan, Partner and Workforce Advisory Services Leader (West Africa) at EY Consulting and Mrs Folakemi Fadahunsi, Chief Financial Officer of a real estate company and a transformation expert with over 19 years of experience in Consumer Markets, Telecommunications, Real Estate, Agriculture and the Public sector for some of the world and Nigeria’s top companies.
Recently, Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was named in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2021. Last March, she emerged as the first African and the first woman to rise to the position of a World Trade Organisation Director-General, a landmark development that has continued to earn her accolades globally. For Bridge girls and other young Nigerian girls and women, Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment and global recognition is a reassurance that they can dream and aspire to reach the peak of their sector.
10-year-old Elizabeth Williams-Charles is a Primary six pupil that loves to be in school learning new things with her friends. Unlike most children, Elizabeth loves mathematics and sees it as interesting and fun. When asked what she would like to be in the future, she didn’t think twice or bat an eyelid before answering. She hopes to become a pilot in the future and hopefully fly her parents. She says it would give her immense joy flying a plane with her parents as passengers.
Apart from reading her books, Elizabeth likes singing during her space time. Her best musician is Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu, known professionally as Sinach, a Nigerian singer, songwriter and senior worship leader at Loveworld. Sinach is the first singer-songwriter to top the Billboard Christian Songwriter chart for 12 weeks in a row.
Elizabeth noted that she has attended a music talent competition and won prizes, including a voice training contract. She says she is inspired by Sinach because of her soul-uplifting songs.
Grace Odoma is a 10-year-old girl who wants to become a doctor in future. Grace who loves reading said her decision to become a doctor started when she read about the life and times of Chief Abimbola Elizabeth Awoliyi, the first woman to practise as a physician in Nigeria. Awoliyi was also the first West African woman to earn a license of Royal Surgeon in Dublin. The late physician attended Queens College, Lagos, a school that Grace is hopeful to attend for her secondary school education.
Girls and boys have the right to aspire to be whatever they want and be supported to achieve their dreams. Bridge is helping to build a prosperous future by creating classrooms and schools with equity of opportunity. The International Day of the Girl Child is marked every year, to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. Achieving the empowerment of women and girls is integral to each of the UN’s 17 Global Goals, but particularly Goal 5 for gender equality. Bridge’s message on the occasion is that every girl has the right to be in charge of her future and her fate, and we have the collective obligation to protect her rights and promote her wellbeing.