Earlier in the year, I went to see a play, and it was an enjoyable experience. The subject matter explored the struggles of men, and as the play was being introduced, the announcer mentioned how people focus on the ‘girl-child’ nowadays and forget about men and their struggles. I found it ironic that the phrase girl child was even being used in a statement about the hard things that men go through, even more so the phrase itself which is tautological: the very definition of the word girl has ‘child’ in it. At the end of the play, the producer said the exact same thing. For me, that statement alone ruined the meaning of the play, because while it was a valid discourse that more people should have, trying to weigh it against the sheer amount of injustices against women and girls was redundant and unnecessary.
It’s a sentiment that a lot of people hold, this erroneous idea that focusing on female children or on women’s issues is somehow leaving out or reducing those of boys or men. A while ago, a popular female Nigerian singer took to twitter to express such sentiments and it made me realise just how uneducated people are on the issues of gender inequality.
I always ask: surely, there must be a logical, solid reason why the issues concerning ‘girl-child’ are being highlighted all over the world? Surely, there have been studies, there are indications and there is enough evidence that points to the fact that female children have been left behind for far too long, and that the effort of organisations and individuals worldwide is only trying to bridge the gap?
According to the World Economic Forum, it will take approximately 200 years for equality to be achieved globally, and with such a long road ahead of us, it baffles me when people say that the boy child is being neglected or left behind.
In northern Nigeria, and in fact certain countries all over the world, child marriage is a serious problem that affects girls only. According to an organisation that is committed to ending child marriage, every year, 12 million girls are forced into marriage in regions all over the world from the Middle East to Africa, South Asia to Europe. This is perhaps the most jarring pointer to the fact that inequality is rife all over the world, despite its levels of education and technological innovation.
There are many reasons why girls are married off at a young age in Nigeria, the most horrifying is the idea of marrying off female children to pay debts. This practice where girls are married off to men as old as 90, as a way to repay debts and is carried out in the south-east part of Nigeria and the girls are referred to as ‘Money Wives’. Rape, objectification, domestic violence, and complications from underage pregnancy are direct consequences of such barbaric practises.
However, these problems are not limited to child brides, in fact, rape is a problem that affects many women(and men) of all ages, race or class. According to the World Population Review, approximately 35% of women would have experienced rape and sexual assault in their lifetime. Between 2012 and 2013, 30% of women would have experienced domestic violence, according to the Women at Risk Foundation, a non-profit that was established in response to the high incidence of sexual assault, rape and human trafficking occurring amongst young girls and women across Nigeria. It is obvious that if a girl is being married off before 18, she was most likely not receiving an education and that wouldn’t change. Yep, you guessed it: there is also inequality in education, and it is due to the fact that many people believe in gender norms that dictates that girls will grow up to the women who will be child-bearers and home-rearers.
Gender norms are intertwined with our societal norms, and while girls are expected to learn house chores, and carry them out, some of the few who can attend school are unable to study properly at home due to the number of chores that they expected to do. Girls and women’s bodies are objectified from a young age, policed and commodified. One can draw a straight line between the objectification of women to rape culture and the illegality of abortion.
In that play, the most prominent problem that the characters faced was poverty and the pressure to provide for their families. However, the majority of poor people in the world are women and this is due to being undervalued and underpaid. Globally, women earn 24% less than men. Even when women earn a steady income and can contribute to the upkeep of their families, and are breadwinners of said families, they still carry more of the burden of housework and childcare, without their partners doing their part. This is just another reminder of the gross inequality that is prevalent all over the world.
It is therefore quite frankly, utterly offensive and unacceptable that so many people who have a platform to influence and impact others can peddle the idea that men’s issues are being relegated to the background when girls are being married off in their childhood, being raped and abused, are refused education and being objectified at every turn. I hope that many people who hold this erroneous idea can recognise the need for us to create a level playing field for both boys and girls(and non-binary people.) I hope to see a world where the future of girls are not predetermined by virtue of them being female, where girls are not seen as vessels to be used for breeding or objects to be sold and traded with, or lesser. I hope to see a world where girls and women can be full autonomous beings and will be armed with the tools to be whoever and whatever they want to be. I hope.