The Girls-for-Girls (G4G) project of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) is fast becoming a game changer in curtailing molestation of school girls in northern part of Nigeria. FELIX KHANOBA reports.
The first time 13-year-old Fatimah Abbah appeared in class 6A of Tudun Wada Primary School, Talata Mafara, Zamfara State, she did something many of her peers could hardly dare. She exhibited uncommon stand against the prying eyes of seeming male intimidators.
Fatimah’s posture was not unconnected to the “don’t touch, don’t touch” catchphrase of the UNICEF’s G4G scheme, which has emboldened girls to focus on education and guard against annoying sexual advances and other intimidating acts in a society where children of her age are often marked out as ‘ready to take’ brides.
Today, Fatimah like other members of the UKaid-supported UNICEF’s G4G groups, have by their conducts attracted several other girls to school in a community whose ‘age-long’ norms detest girls education.
Speaking with journalists during a visit to the school as part of media dialogue on girls education organised by UNICEF, Fatimah said: “I have learnt many things through G4G; I now know how to relate with people very well without fear, how to wash hands.
“I now advise some parents to bring their children to school and I have also learnt how to solve our problems in school as girls.”
The G4G project was put in place to create a platform for empowering girls with knowledge, skills and confidence to exercise the right to enrol and remain in school and be a role model to other girls. It is part of UNICEF Girls’ Education Project (GEP) 3 being implemented in Northern Nigeria.
More than 15,000 girls from Bauchi, Zamfara and Katsina states are currently enrolled and participating in 813 established G4G groups across 18 Local Government Areas in 300 pilot schools.
Apart from the massive success so far recorded by the programme, the scheme which involves the use of trained community based female mentors, mothers association, among others, in ensuring that girls stand up for themselves against molestation, inculcate value of education, acquire economic survival skills and good hygiene, has also given a sense of belonging to vulnerable children.
Physically challenged girl, Suwaiba Yusuf , a pupil of Barau Primary School in Faskari Local Government Area of Katsina State is one of such beneficiaries.
According to Suwaiba, her parents had earlier erroneously believed that she was not useful to them because of her situation as she cannot hawk and generate additional income to the family like her siblings.
Suwaiba situation, however, witnessed a turn around after she attended the Leadership and Life Skills Training organised for her G4G group, through which she learnt how to make beads, slippers and liquid soap.
During the recent Muslim Sallah celebrations, the little girl was said to have made about N6,200 ( 18 US dollars) from the sales of her hand-made items, to the delight of her parents, who now consult her for any decision as a result of her contribution to the family’s income.
Azuka Menkiti, UNICEF education specialist, said such success stories are not unexpected as the G4G scheme is part of GPE whose aim is not only to attract one million girls to school but to also empower beneficiaries.
“The G4G target is to increase demand and retention for girls in school. The major concern is for girls in school to appreciate the value of education,” she said.
On the scheme bias for girls despite the general high rate of out-of-school children in areas of its operation, Mr. Geoffrey Njoku, UNICEF’s communication specialist, said it was not unconnected to the multiplier effect of girls’ education in the area.
“This project focuses on education of the girl child and not only that, it also entails educating the mothers,” Njoku said.
When you educate a mother, the likelihood of her own children going to school is much higher than an uneducated parent. In essence it is more important that the girl is educated.
“The Cash Transfer Programme is one strategy; the G4G is another strategy, so we are pulling everything together to bring girls to school.”
The Nigerian government, which has tried several means to tackle the perennial menace of the over 10 million out-of-school children in the country but with little or no success, appears to see the G4G initiative as one of the magic wands to end the problem.
“Girls are very important part of our society and indeed a high percentage of success in developmental process in any society could be associated to them.
“This position buttresses the need to ensure that they are empowered, especially through education,” Information and Culture Minister, Mr. Lai Mohammed, said in a welcome speech read on his behalf during the two-day media dialogue on G4G held in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State.
Mr. Tayo Fatinikun, Executive Director of Life Helpers Initiative, one of the non-governmental organisations partnering with UNICEF on the G4G project, said the scheme is fast changing the narrative of girls’ education in the northern Nigeria.
According to him, the interest the project has already stimulated in the 100 selected schools where it is in operation in Zamfara State shows that many girls now see education as the only key to a brighter future.