Venue: American Information and Resource Center. Topic: The Girl Child, Mentoring and Empowering them for the Future

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1 Highlights of International Women s Day Roundtable March 8 th, 2011 Venue: American Information and Resource Center Topic: The Girl Child, Mentoring and Empowering them for the Future Speakers: Lucy Kanu Founder/Exec Director, Idea Builders Initiative Detoun Ogwo Angela Daniels -Executive Director, AGDC -Program Director, WEAN Attendees: US DOS Alumni, Representatives from NGO s, teachers and principals from public and private secondary schools and Queens College and Soleil Secondary Schools junior level students. The meeting was called to order by the host-staff of the American Consulate Lagos-at 10:25 am. Panel speakers introduced themselves and touched on their mentoring experience in the United States. The panel speakers went on to site the importance of mentoring and empowering the girl child. Dialogue commenced with participants stating their concerns on the disadvantages faced by the girl child and the negative perceptions placed on her by structures in the society, social norms and the

2 home. A great emphasis was placed on the importance of establishing strong family structures to lay a solid foundation for the girl child to build the self-esteem she would need to overcome the hurdles she would be faced with due to her gender. The importance of educating women was also discussed- Educate a man, you educate an individual; educate a woman and you educate an entire country. Several participants agreed that the media-nigerian movies, the internet and the use the blackberries provide young girls with unnecessary and negative exposure. The students were urged to work hard and earn high marks in school and avoid being peer-pressured by the bad crowd. They were also advised on the importance of abstinence and dire consequences of promiscuity. The sanctity of marriage was discussed but the girls were counseled not to perceive marriage as the sole means to leading a happy and fulfilled life. The students were then encouraged to comment and/or address any concerns they might have. [The names of the students have been omitted to safeguard their privacy] Student 1, 12 years This young girl said she appreciates being mentored by her cousin, who is about the same age as she. Her cousin has discouraged her from making purchases that would have been harmful to her and has admonished her from watching pornographic material over the internet. She was advised by panel members to keep her cousin as a friend because of the positive influence she has on her. Emphasis was then made on the importance of keeping good company. Show me your friends, and I ll tell you who you are. The girls were advised to face their studies and to do away with any bad friends who might influence them. Student 2, 11 years old She wanted to know-how do you motivate or correct someone who doesn t want to listen? This student was advised to be persistent in her efforts, offer prayers on behalf of the party involved and show love and compassion. It was also brought to her attention that despite one s best efforts, it is impossible to save everyone. One can only try. Student 3, 12 years old Said- Parent don t tell us about things we d experience when going through puberty. We hear things from outside and we hear about them in the wrong way. She went on to add that parents are often too busy at work to really sit down and talk to their kids. Kids learn most of the things they know from the media or bad friends. This girl child was advised to consult her guidance counselors, to read inspirational and coming-of-age books and to continue trying to communicate with her parents. It was also pointed out that parents are sometimes uncomfortable discussing private matters with their children-this no way translates into apathy. She was advised to listen to her conscious before engaging in dubious activity and ask herself

3 what her mother would say or think if she was aware; she was also told mothers are often those to blame for children s mishaps and she should bear that in mind with everything she does. Student 4, 11 years old Asked-how do we become leaders? A panel member advised the student to take it upon herself to empower and mentor those around her and if you want to be a president, start by being a president from now on, for every day of your life. Student 5, 12 years old This student advised that parents and teachers use the things that kids are interested in to teach them lessons. She went on to say that her mother knew that she loved reading so she bought her a book titled, 10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know and highlighted the important parts. That had a positive impact on her. The girl s mother was commended for her initiative. Teacher and other parents were urged to follow suit. Student 6, 12 years old This student was shuffled around a lot as a result of her father s unemployment. She didn t have anyone she could really talk to. When she asked her grandmother questions regarding puberty and issues she didn t not comprehend, her grandmother brushed her off saying that she was supposed to know these things form science class. She went on to ask, if she were to get rid of her bad friends, who then would tell her the things that she needs to know or answer her questions? Persistence was emphasized here. If she asks often enough, she will be answered. She was discouraged form discarding friends that have weather the storms with her. Student 7, 11 years old This girl child has a friend who comes from a dysfunctional family, which as a result has left her selfesteem and self-image in tatters. She wanted to know how to help her friend. A panel member suggested that the girl look in the mirror every morning telling her reflections she is already what she aspires to be; overtime, this will build her self-esteem and self-image. She was also advised to pray for her friend. Student 8, 13 years old This student wanted to know how to reach other girls their age that are loners and tend to shut everyone out. Prayers were advised in this case. Love and prayer break all barriers. She was told to pray, show love and to teach by example.

4 Student 9, 11 years old Asked-Can we mentor and empower in a fun and lively way? The answer was yes. She was urged to pursue that as a way to influence her peers in positive way. Becoming a part of Young Nollywood was also recommended. Several requests were made by the young students to have more issue-dialogues in their schools so that their peers can benefit from it. The need for logistics and planning was brought up by a panel member. Queens College volunteered to host and sponsor the event. Several students volunteered to be help in mentoring and empowering other young girls in their age group. They were requested to submit their names to Kokomma, a programme coordinator in Idea Builders Initiative. The roundtable discourse came to an end with Mr. Peter from the American Consulate urging everyone to take advantage to their Resources Center to read to quality literature and to learn more about other women all over the world who have achieved great feats and contributed to the movement and progress of women over the years. Watching Hollywood productions of inspiring autobiographical movies on women pioneer like Emilia Earhart was also recommended. Observations: 1. A great emphasis was made on the importance of getting good grades-not on performing to the best of one s ability. Some student s best is a B, some students can get A s with very little effort. Some students might suffer from learning disabilities-such as dyslexia. Students that don t perform well in a formal classroom setting might excel in athletics or be creative geniuses. Attributing success to straight A s tends to marginalize those with the inability to attain those grades. 2. The students seemed interested in the idea of mentoring and empowering the peers but didn t know how. This indicates that although the schools might be academically strong, they lag behind when it comes to providing the students with necessary life survival skills. There are no formal platforms for the students to express their individuality, explore their leadership skills so as to empower not only themselves but others as well. 3. The students were told that to get ahead in Nigeria, one needs connections and/or a godfather. They were also told that they needed to study and get ahead though hard work and sheer grit- not to sleep their way to the top. This presents a contradiction in the young mind of an 11 or 12 year old. If you have no connections or godfather-how then would you begin? Would being hard working individual matter at all if you are denied the opportunity to prove your worth because you lack the necessary connections? Would it be necessary to get a godfather and then work your way to the top? 4. The students expressed concerns in their parents inability or reluctance to discuss certain matters with them. Perhaps parents should be included in subsequent roundtable discussions. Although the

5 school authorities emphasized that their schools have guidance counselors to help students, the students still felt that they had a lot of questions that hadn t been answered and that they had no one but their bad friends and the media to learn from. This begs the question: why? I think that the intention to help the students navigate through this perilous and crucial stage of their lives is there, the structures have also been put in place. It is the manner in which they are being executed that is flawed. From my observation, the students left the forum little more empowered but filled with more questions than ever. Counselors need to understand that preaching to pre-teens or teens won t answer their questions or get them to open up. Most times it has the opposite effect, it makes them feel judged and therefore more reluctant to share their inner turmoil. It also creates a barrier between them and the bad friends. Using the term bad friends encourages young girls to view some of their contemporaries as bad kids rather than kids that make bad choices. Those bad friends are likely to feel alienated and judged and are likely to respond with defiance and rebellion. The young mind is very impressionable and highly perceptive. To do away with the prejudices against women, we must first do away with the prejudices we hold against one another as females. Poorly-worded phrases or sentences giving people labels leave a lasting impression on children. When we call a lost child who makes a bad choice a bad kid or a bad friend, we are calling on the girl child to judge her fellow girl child as bad-to judge another individual based on impression not on facts leading up to the event. When we stereotype individuals, we call on the girl child to stereotype her fellow girl child. How can we stop men from judging us based on our gender and appearancenot on intellect and ability-when we cannot do the same for one another? Prepared By: Maryam Bello-Tukur

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