By Ijeoma Anastasia Ntada
I’ve had people ask me, “What do you girls even want?” when I bring up discussions that revolve around the segregation and unfair treatment meted out on the girl child. From the girl child who struggles against traditional norms to get educated, to the one who battles period poverty, to the girl who becomes a victim of child marriage long before she discovers who she is, girls are rising to speak against the injustice they deal with. But some girls are not allowed to whimper, let alone speak. Girls are united in uplifting each other, and that is why those who can speak do so loudly as they also speak for those who cannot.
The United Nations theme for this year’s International Day of The Girl Child is Our Time is Now—Our Rights, our Future. In line with this, I have curated this list of young women from across Africa to celebrate them for all they do in amplifying the voice of the girl child and championing her causes.
Banda is a 26-year-old Malawian activist who fights against child marriage common in the Chiradzulu district of Malawi where she grew up in. Growing up in a society where young girls were forced into marriage ignited a passion in the young Banda who resolved to fight against child marriage to the best of her ability. Banda’s younger sister was sent to an “initiation camp” on the onset of puberty so she could cross into adulthood.
The initiation camp is popular in rural Malawi. Girls are sent to these camps to learn how to please men sexually. Most of them get pregnant at these initiation camps. Banda’s younger sister, Mercy, was one of those. She was only eleven years old.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, it was discovered that an average of one out of two girls in Malawi will be married before their eighteenth birthday. Banda made a change to this trend by advocating that the legal age for marriage in Malawi be raised from fifteen to eighteen. She advocated for this earnestly, and her voice was loud enough to be heard. Her advocacy led to the legal age of marriage being increased from fifteen to eighteen in Malawi.
Banda also created the Let Girls Lead Community. With this platform, Banda fights for the girl child to stay in school. She also teaches them about their rights and how valuable they are as human beings and not people who were made solely for marriage. Her speech, A Warrior’s Cry Against Child Marriage, will remain evergreen.
Banda has won awards for her contribution towards girls’ education and the eradication of child marriage in Malawi. One of the most notable of these awards is the United Nations Young Activist Award which she was awarded in 2019.
Today, we raise a toast to Memory Banda for her advocacy work in eradicating child marriage in Malawi, and for the greatness she embodies.
The work of Kudirat Abiola and her friends in eradicating child marriage in Nigeria has gained national and international recognition.
Abiola met Temitayo Asuni and Susan Ubogu two at a career workshop hosted by the WiFi Combat Academy, a STEM Education Program which was aimed at equipping attendees with a defined sense of self as well as the information they needed to know to build their careers. Abiola and her friends shared similar interests, and it didn’t take long for them to become friends and choose one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to work on. They chose SDG-5. For Abiola, it was a great way to contribute to society while doing what she was greatly interested in. In 2018, Abiola and her friends founded the Never Your Fault initiative which was aimed at empowering the girl child and eradicating child marriage in Nigeria.
Abiola has dreams of becoming a prominent child activist as she is deeply passionate about activism. Her love for activism is not far-fetched, as she comes from a family of activists. Her grandmother, Kudirat Abiola, agitated for the independence of Nigeria in her time. Abiola is also a niece to the famous civil rights activist, Hafsat Abiola.
Susan Ubogu is a co-founder of the Never Your Fault initiative, a foundation aimed at eradicating child marriage in Nigeria. Ubogu met two other teenagers like her at an event. The greatness and similarities in their ideals made it easy for her to build a great relationship with them.
These friends in the persons of Kudirat Abiola and Temitayo Asuni were as ambitious as Ubogu, and the energy and passion for change they all had made them stand up for other young girls like them who suffered various forms of abuse in the society. Ubogu taught herself to code at ten. Ubogu is said to be a math genius who loves to take up challenges and solve problems. Her problem-solving skills are evident in the great work she does alongside her friends at Never Your Fault.
In 2018, Ubogu, Kudirat Abiola, and Temitayo Asuni started the #raisetheage petition aimed at banning child marriage in Nigeria. Thousands of Nigerians signed and are still signing the petition.
Ubogu is passionate about girl child education, and she is determined to help as many girls as she can with the Never Your Fault initiative.
Temitayo Asuni is a co-founder of Never Your Fault initiative. She became friends with Kudirat Abiola and Susan Ubogu after meeting them at an event.
She shared similar interests with them, and it didn’t take long for them to map out change making strategies that could benefit the girl child.
A 2018 UNICEF report says; “Close to 30% of women in their early 20s from low-income families were married in their childhood compared to 10% of girls from wealthy homes in Nigeria.” It is for this reason that Never Your Fault focuses on eradicating child marriage from the grassroots because majority of the girls affected by it are from low-income families. But the organisation is not stopping at just eradicating child marriage. Provisions are being put in place for rehabilitation and re-discovery of self for girls who are trapped in child marriages.
Asuni told CNN that she felt helpless whenever she saw news of young girls being married off at tender ages. Seeing young girls who are supposed to be in school like her in child marriages instilled a desire for change in her, and meeting Abiola and Ubogu when she did was her desire for change come true as they were also interested, like she was, in the eradication of child marriage.
Today, we doff our hats for girls like Abiola, Asuni, and Ubogu who are working are working and raising their voices to end child marriage in Nigeria.
Okigbo Ijeoma is a Philosophy graduate whose foray into the News Agency of Nigeria started during her one year in the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Prior to working in the News Agency of Nigeria during NYSC, Ijeoma was not involved in any sports. But along the line, it piqued her interest and she gave it a hot shot. She went fully into sports broadcasting and writing, and within a short period of time, her excellence in sports journalism shone for all to see.
Okigbo’s passion for sports transcends broadcasting sport news. She also founded a Non-Governmental Organisation called Girls Aspire which is aimed at promoting girls that participate in sports. Okigbo has been able to touch the lives of many girls and give them a reason to reach for their zeniths with Girls Aspire. Okigbo nurtures young girls and pours all her love into them as they learn abs become great girls for themselves and the society at large.
Paul, a graduate of International Relations from the University of Dodoma, Tanzania, did her post graduate studies in Economic Diplomacy at the Centre for Foreign Relations in the United Republic of Tanzania. Her fire for activism was ignited at age 15. Then, Paul witnessed her friend become a victim of child marriage. She felt helpless because there was nothing she could do to help. That has changed now as she is now providing help for vulnerable girls like her friend and ensuring they do not get burnt by the inferno that is child marriage.
Paul is a Global Youth Ambassador who is passionate about youth, gender issues and health. She works with different bodies to address these issues in her home country, Tanzania. She believes in the empowerment of the girl child because the empowered girl grows to see life beyond marriage and the constraints of an underdeveloped environment.
Paul encourages a holistic education of the girl as the girl should be educated beyond academic work. The girl should be made to know her rights and embrace them. Paul is aware of the difficulties the girl child faces from every angle, especially in the rural areas of Tanzania. She tackles them by educating the girls from rural areas, as well as their religious and constitutional leaders.
In 2015, she co-founded the Youth for Change, Tanzania, a global youth-led organisation. Through the platform, she has been successful in broadening the scope of her activism and fight for the rights of the child till date.
Paul has earned applauds around the globe for what she does. She was a Youth Advisory Council member for the African Union. In 2019, she received the Point of Light Award from Queen Elizabeth II for her campaign against child marriage and Gender-Based Violence in the Commonwealth. Today, we celebrate Petrider Paul for being a voice and a brave warrior in the fight for the girls in Tanzania.
Ukpevie Grace from Bayelsa State is an advocate against domestic violence in all its forms. The high rate of domestic violence in Nigeria inspires Ukpevie to fight for every woman that suffers from it. Most of these women do not walk away from their abusers until grave harm is done, and Ukpevie tries her hardest to make them understand the concept of abuse and how best to escape from its claws.
Ukpevie runs a Non-Governmental Organisation called Hilarity World Foundation. In May 2022, she collaborated with Ms. Dise Ogbise, the president of Do Foundation International to start a Domestic Violence Clinic aimed at helping women leave abusive marriages. But it doesn’t end there. They also help the women go through a proper learning and healing process where they are educated on things they need to know. The Domestic Violence Clinic also equips the women with skills or businesses that will help them survive outside their abusive marriage.
With DVC, more women can get help easily and not succumb under the terror of abusive marriages/relationships.
Karimot Odebode, a poet and youth activist, is from the ancient city of Ibadan, Nigeria. She studied Law at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Odebode uses her poetry to influence social change. Her love for poetry inspired her to write a poetry collection of 107 poems titled A Woman Has Many Names.
Odebode is the founder of the Black Girls Dream Initiative, a youth-led Non-Governmental Organisation that fights for the girl child. The initiative also works to bridge the gender gap in education.
Odebode also fights against such evils as abuse, child marriage, and female genital mutilation meted out on the girl child. Odebode believes every girl is entitled to quality education and safety, and she has worked with big bodies like the United Nations to promote her stance.
She composed the Transform Education Anthem for the United Nations Girls Education Initiative. The powerful anthem gives strength to the fight for girl child education. Odebode was also made a Youth Champion for the ONE campaign that fought against poverty and for quality education for girls in Nigeria. In March 2022, Odebode was included in the list of the 100 influential young people by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Oyo State.
Afrocritik celebrates these young women who are not deterred in the face of challenges, but continue to make life better for every girl in Africa. We uphold every girl today as we remind her that her time is now, and there is no limit to how great she can become. Dear girl, take up as much space as you desire, the world is your oyster!
Ijeoma Anastasia Ntada writes and reads poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She has a couple of poems published in the Love Anthology, The Ducor Review, Visual Verse, Praxis Review and other places. Ijeoma is also a photography enthusiast. She takes beautiful photographs and makes them art. When Ijeoma isn’t studying to become a Laboratory Scientist, you’ll find her talking about Afro Hair, femininity, and embracing all of her girlhood.