Today, on the International Day of the Girl Child, I will be announcing the results of a small competition I launched not long ago: I asked young women and girls aged 16 to 25 to post a one minute video setting out why the rights of girls matter, and what they would do about it if they were given the opportunity. Along with two colleagues, I will pick one “winner” who will be invited to “be the Deputy High Commissioner in Lagos for a day.”
I have received some comments on social media asking me why I am discriminating against men and boys, who may equally want such an opportunity. And so here is my answer: this is a small, symbolic, gesture. A gesture that is intended to show that, despite all the talk of girl power, across the world, girls do not have the same opportunities as boys. That there are still informal rules of the game that often hold girls back, and that are often invisible. And that we need to do something about it. There is a case for proactive action.
This is not only the case in Nigeria. It is the case across the world. Each country faces its own challenges and difficulties and journey to equality and dignity. You know better than I do what the challenges are in Nigeria: nationally, 43 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18. Rape and sexual violence is recognised as a widespread and serious problem. Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school in the world – 10.5 million children. The majority are girls. Men dominate and control social, economic and political life.