Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Finally! If You Truly Care About The Girl-Child, Read This!

“Difficult adjustments were inevitable and there were comic, even absurd results. Several pig farmers could not bear to part with their pigs and reared them in their high-rise apartments. Some were seen coaxing their pigs up the stairs! One family, a couple with 12 children moving from a hut to a new HDB apartment at Old Airport Road, brought a dozen chickens and ducks to rear in the kitchen. The mother built a wooden gate at the entrance to stop them from entering the living room. In the evening, the children would look for earthworms and insects at the grass patches outdoors for feed. They did this for 10 years until they moved into another apartment.

The Malays preferred to be closer to the ground. They planted vegetables around the high-rise as they used to do in their Kampongs. For a long while, many Chinese, Malays and Indians walked up the stairs instead of taking the elevators, not because they wanted the exercise but because they were afraid of the elevators. There were people who continued to use Kerosene lamps instead of electric bulbs. Others carried on their old businesses as before, selling cigarettes, sweets and sundry goods from their front rooms on the ground floor. They all suffered from culture shock.” ** Lee Kwan Yew

A friend said, even if we got the #ChildNotBride campaign wrong, at least Nigerians were engaged. I agree. We put aside our differences, joined forces and brought the plight of the girl-child to the front burner of national discourse. That in itself is an achievement. I’ve read a couple of articles and arguments for and against the topic under discussion. Inspite of all that has been said, some people still feel as strongly as they did from the very beginning. Some others now believe the furore was misinformed and unnecessary. Irrespective of where your allegiance lies, irrespective of whether the contentious Subsection is removed or not, I’m of the opinion that the reality of the girl-child on the street won’t change much. 

So what can be done? A friend asked.

After thinking about that question for a bit I remembered Lee Kwan Yew’s story as quoted above. The spirit of the #ChildNotBride Campaign is right and that’s an important fact we shouldn’t lose sight of. What’s questionable however, is the approach. The change we seek has to come from a place of understanding, first, before anything else. Sadly, most of those screaming from the rooftops do not seem to understand the needed context to make informed decisions. I noticed that controversial Senator Ahmed Yerima, used religion as a basis for pushing for the re-vote. Anchoring his argument on morality and the need to protect young girls vulnerable to the whims of their flesh, he got a sizeable number of the Senators on his side. A pervasive culture steeped in unshakable religious sanctimony; if there’s a more dangerous combination, I haven’t found it yet.

But as narrow-minded and backward as we may think Yerima’s submissions are, it’s imperative to understand how the minds of the Yerimas of this world work. If we don’t we’ll be like flies in a corked bottle, screaming and flaying wildly while he looks on, honestly puzzled as to why we all seem so agitated.

What is Yerima afraid of? What will the eradication of the culture he is so protective of do to his society? Is there a sound basis for his continued belief? Is there any logic in his argument? Can it be faulted? On what basis? Is there a superior argument that can make sense to people of his ilk asides the black or white, right or wrong stance we seem to have taken? We might find it hard to understand his seemingly twisted thinking because we believe he should know better. I’d rather we err on the side of caution by never assuming someone, anyone should know better. It’s too risky and it sets us up for epic disappointment.

Some people believe we are a product of our environment, others believe the opposite. Data isn’t subjective so I’ll use it to illustrate my point. Research has shown that abused children most likely end up abusers themselves. Children whose parents are junkies are at high risk of going down the same route. There’s something about being continually exposed to a particular situation that dulls its ability to shock, excite or move us and induces eventual acceptance of such as normal. If this is so, then suffice it to say that Yerima’s problem isn’t so much his pedophilic tendencies, it is hinged on the fact that he grew up in a society where early marriages are prevalent, normal and promoted. He argues so vehemently because that is the reality he was born into and grew up in. He doesn’t know better. He’s suffering from culture shock. You want to take away the familiar and like a drowning man, he’s fighting with every muscle in his body.

The prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) buttresses this point perfectly. Nigeria has the highest number of FGM cases in the world, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women worldwide. A whooping 41% of all adult Nigerian women are victims of FGM.

One would think this is a dire situation that needs urgent attention but hear this, only 37% of circumcised women believe the practice should be stopped. What happened to the remaining 63%? They anchored the need for continued mutilation on the same reasons as Yerima’s - morality and the need to preserve chastity and purification, among other reasons. The culture is so engrained in the societies that practice them that some learned health care personnel offer mutilation services.

Whatever! So the rest of us should just sit and watch such barbarity continue? Absolutely not! However, understanding the issues from the perspective of those who feel very strongly about them is imperative. Any change that happens without the buy-in of critical stakeholders needed to drive it at all levels is change that won’t last.

Hajia Mairo Bello Garko understands this. She understands that people like Yerima need to be taught how to  use the elevator. They need to understand that pig farms don't belong in high-rise buildings. Working with institutional figures and key decision-makers; using the most superior, rational and empirical arguments available (i.e the devastating health, social and economic implications of early marriage) she’s been fighting for the protection of the girl-child quietly for years. She has managed to do this without insulting the sensibilities of those whose support is critical to the success of her crusade; sadly, some of those people fall within the same category as Yerima.

If you are serious about being a catalyst for true, enduring change for the girl-child in Nigeria, if this isn't just another social media campaign to you, then borrow a leaf from Hajia Mairo; join forces with Hajia Mairo. Until perpetrators and victims of early marriages understand why change is necessary, until they drive the process themselves, support for the practice, like FGM, will remain prevalent and like the pig farmers in Lee Kwan Yew’s story, we’ll find the stench contaminating our liberal, progressive minds. Angered, we’ll yell and post on Facebook and tweet and upload YouTube videos and sign petitions and stage protests but like flies in a corked bottle they won’t hear us, they won’t understand. And as they herd their stinking pigs up the stairs of our forward thinking ideology, one pig farmer will stop and ask the other a very honest question, ‘Pray thee tell, what upsets them so?

** Lee Kwan Yew (From his book: From Third World To First)

©Naomi Lucas


Edzai Zvobwo said...

hi, kindly assist by spreading the word on my initiative to increase the GirlChild literacy rates in mathematics and science across the globe. I was featured in the article below. Thanks.

Naomi Lucas said...

Great work you're doing Edzai. Keep it up :)