On the 28th of August 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, during the march for jobs and freedom, Dr Martin Luther King (Jr) gave one of the most iconic speeches in history. The speech which was given to over 250,000 civil rights supporters and was broadcast to millions across the world, was a major proponent in reducing the scourge of racial segregation and discrimination in America.
Dr King said a lot of wonderful things in that speech, but this is the most quotable;
I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they are judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
He envisioned a nation where skin colour doesn’t define any person. He dreamt of a nation where racism was a thing of the past. He saw a nation where people are not belittled, denied opportunities, trampled upon, relegated to second place, just because they happen to be born with melanin in their skin.
Today, I have a dream too. It’s a similar dream but it’s focus varies a bit. My grievance is not with colour or racial discrimination in parts of the world but with gender discrimination particularly in Africa. So, like Dr King, I too want to let you know that;
I have a dream that the African girl child will no longer be given or denied opportunities by reason of her gender alone but by the content of her brain (her merits and qualifications). I have a dream today.
Allow me break it down for you. Let me explain my dream in details :
1) I dream of a family;
– Where a girl child is given the same relevance/importance as a male child.
– Where the girl child is taught to discover herself and pursue her dreams and her passions and not trained only to be good wives and mothers.
– Where the education of the girl child is as important as that of a male child and parents don’t make such irresponsible statements like, “No matter how much you achieve or how far you climb, you will still end up in the kitchen.”
– Where comments like, “Women don’t talk when men are talking” become a thing of the past.
2) I dream of a school system;
– Where the girl child is not made -directly or indirectly – to feel inferior or less than her male classmates in any way. I have heard several teachers say things like, “How can you (a boy) be copying from a girl?” Now, the teacher’s gripe is not that copying at all in an examination is wrong but that somehow, a guy copying from a girl is a taboo.
– Where a girl child isn’t compelled by immoral lecturers to sleep with them before she can pass a course she would ace on merit.
– Where a male must not automatically be the class representative or Student Union Government president. Same way the vice or deputy or assistant mustn’t always be a woman. The positions should be open to anyone qualified for the office from both sexes.
3) I dream of a workforce;
– Where male and female workers have equal opportunities for career advancement.
– Where women don’t have to put in twice the effort just to get to the same level as her male colleagues.
– Where a woman who is qualified and fit isn’t denied certain positions just because of her gender.
– Where women with merit, women who have earned it, are given the opportunity to lead and make decisions at the highest echelons of industries, companies, firms, organizations and institutions.
– Where a female engineer isn’t somehow considered inferior to her male counterparts even when they hold the same qualifications and competencies.
– Where women don’t have to sell their bodies before they can progress in their careers and professions.
4) I dream of marriages;
– Where domestic abuse attracts severe penalties and punishment.
– Where wives are not seen and treated only as sex objects by their husbands.
– Where the woman’s place isn’t only in the kitchen but also by her man’s side (She’s a help meet, not a kitchen appliance).
– Where the woman doesn’t get blamed for everything. For example;
– If the woman cheats then she’s a whore but when the man Is unfaithful, then the wife isn’t doing enough for her husband. How is that even fair?
– If a child misbehaves then the mother didn’t train the child well. Even the father of the child would blame the mother. Excuse me, but is training up a child supposed to be only one parent’s job?
5) Finally, I dream of a society;
– Where a woman is treated like her own person with a mind and will of your own. Where the girl child is allowed to choose her own path and be who she wants to be, not who society says she should be.
– Where marriage is not the ultimate dream or achievement for the girl child. A society where she is encouraged to dream big and reach for the sky even after marriage.
– Where women believe in themselves, where they know that they can do more and achieve really great things.
– Where a woman must not be tied to a man’s apron string to find expression or definition. A society where a woman must not be married before she is accorded the respect she has earned.
– Where the girl child is better protected from physical and sexual abuse by the implementation of stricter punishments for perpetrators of rape, incest, ritual killings and all other form of violence.
– Where successful women are not automatically believed to have slept their way to the top.
– Where women don’t absurdly get blamed for everything even when they are victims. For instance;
– There is a story making the rounds about a serial killer murdering women in hotel rooms in some states in Nigeria and instead of the killings being condemned, the victims are being slated for being prostitutes and frequenting hotels. I am not trying to condone prostitution here, but is it really more vile than murder?
– A woman is raped and then she (the victim) is blamed for ‘dressing inappropriately’. Seriously? So if I park my car by the roadside, does that give hoodlums the justification to steal or vandalize it?
In conclusion, I dream of a nation and a continent where gender doesn’t define people. I dream of a time when the African girl child is free from stereotypes and societal biases. I dream of an era when the African girl is feted as the queen that she is, regardless of her family background or social status. I dream of a much better life for the average African girl child.
Big dreams you say? Well, what better way to dream huh? If you are going to dream at all, you may as well go for broke. Also, big means difficult, not impossible.
This dream can’t be brought to reality by one person alone. It requires all of us working together to first of all, correct this flawed mindset in this part of the world of seeing females as inferior to males. We must educate ourselves and others to understand that the girl child is not a second rate human being!
I’ll never forget the day we were conducting elections for the youth wing of a particular organization I belong to and when it was all going well until it was time for the office of the President. I nominated a lady (who was quite clearly the most capable person we had amongst us) to be voted for and she was turned down by the men on the electoral council. Someone there said something that immobilized me. He asked, “How can a woman lead us?” That was his only concern; that she was not a he (qualifications be damned). In the end, a guy who was far less capable than the lady won the presidential seat. I am still disappointed even as I write this.
Men and women are two sides of the same coin. Both sides need each other to be complete. Neither can stand on its own. Men and women are partners in this business of life and as such, it’s time the girl child gets a seat at the table – if she merits it. We must always seek for the best person for the job, regardless of gender. The place of the girl child in Africa must extend beyond ‘za oda room.’
Admittedly, gender discrimination is now less prominent than in years past but it is still too evident in many sectors. It is really unfair that the African girl child almost always has to start one step behind. Why should she be doing all the work in the house (prepare meals, do the laundry, take care of her younger siblings, do the dishes etc) while her brother does next to nothing? Both the boy child and the girl child are all gifts from God. None is better than the other. Let’s all work together to eliminate or at least, drastically reduce the scourge of gender discrimination in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
I’d like to appreciate the following people for contributing to this article. They made me understand from their own perspective, what it means to be a girl child in this part of the world;
Adebisi Feyikemi, Ugwuja Chidumebi, Zubi E. Precious, Eke Favour, Raymond Chidimma, Amaefula Maryann, Ndubuishi Lauretta, Afube Angel, Ugwuja Ifeyinwa, Omeje Goodness.