I grew up in a poor community, and my parents were averagely comfortable; I had four sisters and three brothers. I was the 7th child of my family, Nigeria, with about 200 million, more than half of the people living in extreme poverty. It is not news that most young people share a similar story of growing up in a poor community. It is not a cliché that will draw pity; no, it is the environment we found ourselves in. Despite being an oil-producing nation, the country still struggles economically. Thanks to corruption and mismanagement of resources and stealing of public funds by those in government.
I always wanted to break the belief system that women were just in this world to get married, have children, and manage homes from a young age. I wanted more: to break the solid patriarchal system that over the years has limited women, I need to be empowered with education; education opens the mind to think creatively and offer solutions to problems. In most families, female education isn’t prioritised like the male. The females are to be married off eventually, and it is perceived that any investment in them will be a waste to their families. I wanted to prove the stereotype wrong. Educating a female child is a wise investment as they can pass the knowledge to the younger generation. That society will benefit more when a female child is empowered with education. I have read the stories of Black women who rose to a significant position despite culture and a solid patriarchal system. Growing up, there were challenges, especially with finances; as the year goes by, it was difficult for my parents to cater to my siblings as their business was destroyed in an inferno. It was one of the challenging times for my family as we had to take up menial jobs to support family living costs. After completing high school, I could not continue with my university education. It was one of my lowest moments; after five years, I finally enrolled in the university with the bit of savings I had and support from my parents and siblings. Due to the long break, I faced before starting up my university education. I had challenges over the first few years in the university. I was able to overcome this with resilience and determination. I finally graduated as the best graduating student in my department. Inside I knew that I could become all I wanted if I stay committed and work hard.
As black African women, society has decided our fate even before we are born. Society has a definition of how we should smile, react, speak. An African woman is painted to be incomplete without a man, and so right from a young age, we are groomed to fit into the role of a wife and a caregiver. She can dream but not too much. She should not have a mind of her own. For example, in Nigeria, women make up 50% of the population, yet women’s representation in leadership positions at public and private institutions is still below 1%. Yet, Nigerian women have continued to make an extraordinary impact across the globe. The question now is why they cannot be allowed equal opportunity in a leadership position in their country. Despite signing the Beijing Platform on 35% affirmative action, Nigeria is yet to implement the policy in the country. I speak as a woman who has faced discrimination not because I cannot take up a position, but a man is seen as more qualified because he is a man and not due to the knowledge and skill.
I want to amplify millions of women and girls, especially in Africa, who have continued to deal with a culture and belief system that has oppressed their rights. A system that has not allowed them to achieve their highest potential. In most African countries, women and girls make up almost half of the population. Yet, women are not part of the decision making even when the decision directly affects them. Women in Africa, just like their counterparts in other continents, can become more if society supports them. My dream is to champion girls’ right to education to ensure that society does not deny them the opportunity to have a better future. To show that through educating a child, women and child mortality will be narrowed, that when males and females are given equal access to education, the society is well developed. I finished as the best graduating student in a degree that is believed to be male-dominated. I broke the gender stereotype that sees women and girls as weak. I am not weak; I am not less intelligent; I have all it takes to excel and contribute to social development. I am not an object; I am not a liability. I am not just a mother or wife; I am a human first, capable of making an impact. I believe I speak for most African women and girls when I say that our dream is not just to become mothers and wives; we also want to contribute to the nation’s development. We want the opportunity to compete favourably and all obstacles removed. As the world moves to attain the Gender Equality goal, Africa countries should also ensure that they are part of this plan. Only when we work together (male and female) can we achieve the Africa of our dream.