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Malala And The Burden Of The Female Child


It was a hot Wednesday afternoon and I had to make a short visit to my bank on Herbert Macaulay Way Yaba. It was about a new account and my first stop was at the inquiry desk just three steps away from the security doors.

The smiling customer service officer, a young soft spoken woman in navy blue skirt suit was already busy with a young couple and their two children, so I stood a few inches away from the desk and waited.

Within minutes of standing there, I saw that the couple were there to open an account for one of their children. Judging from their physical appearance, this was clearly not a rich couple and I being impressed by the fact that the man sitting in his faded white shirt and holding on to the arm of the little girl standing beside him while his wife held their little baby in her arms, was thinking of securing the future of his children.

“So what is her name?” The customer service lady asked, pen poised over paper and looking expectantly at the man before her.

“Ah, no ma,” the man says with a sheepish grin. “No be for her, na for him.”

I was just as confused as the customer service lady. Him? I thought to myself, wondering if I heard the man right.

“Are you talking about the baby?” The customer service lady asked in a confused tone.

“Yes, ma,” the man nods, his smile growing wider. “The baby na man. This one…” he paused to pull the emaciated little girl closer to him, “this one na woman.”

“But,” the customer lady began, flashing a smile bright enough to win a deal for a toothpaste advert. “She is the older one, don’t you think the right thing to do is to open an account for her instead.”

The smile disappearing from his face, the man disagreed with the customer service lady with an emphatic shake of his head and a curt, “I come to open an account for the man.”

In the end, the ‘man’ swaddled in white shawl in his mother’s arms got the account while the little girl, wiped her nose, cast a long curious look at the smiling customer service lady and let her father drag her away. That afternoon stayed with me for a long time. Long enough for me to still be writing about it three years after it happened.

Preference for male children has always been one of society’s greatest defects. This problem spans across continents, races, religions and tongue. From China to India, to Nigeria, the female child suffers discrimination right from the cradle. Perhaps the only societies where girl children are valued just as much as their male counterparts are advanced ones like America and most of Europe where women have emerged as leaders and game changers.

When the story of Malala Yousafzai came out, many people like me followed it with a horror befitting the situation. Malala was singled out for assassination because she spoke of her right to education, taking a stand for herself as well as several other little girls in her country. As she was flown to the United Kingdom for treatment, I joined faith with thousands, and probably millions of people touched by her bravery and hoped that she survived the gunshot wound on her head. Malala did survive that assassination attempt, but her ordeal got me thinking just how badly the girl child has it.

According to statistics, more than 60% of the 110 million children out of school are girls. This is a depressing fact as it means that girls who fall into this category are more likely to get married before the age of 16, become victims of exploitation, trafficking, and child labour. The burden of the girl child is not a light one. She is shot in the head for declaring her right to education in Pakistan, left to die in a pot in some remote Indian village and refused an account by her own father in Nigeria.

There are a millions of young girls like Malala who will never enjoy the benefits of going to school. They will never learn practical skills or how to protect themselves from exploitation. They will never be able to fully partake in decisions that affects their health or general wellbeing. They may never be able to make meaningful contribution to the income of their families and the society by large. This is the grim reality. This is the truth and as we continue to submit ourselves to cultures that place more importance on male children than female children, the world will never reach its full potential. The burden of the female child is also the burden of the world.

Study after study has taught us that there is no tool more effective for development than the empowerment of women. – Kofi Annan

Written on November 5 2012 on

    • What do you think might be the root cause?
      To answer that, I think it boils down to cultural beliefs which themselves are steeped in a patriarchal belief system.

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