Onyinye Edeh is the founder of Strong Enough Girls’ Empowerment Initiative (SEGEI) which works to empower Nigerian adolescent girls and young women through education, mentorship, and life skills development
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Strong Enough Girls’ Empowerment Initiative (SEGEI) envisions a world where every girl and woman feels supported and empowered to reach their full potential, how has it been trying to achieve this quite lofty a vision in the last 5 years?
SEGEI has existed since September 2015; was registered in Nigeria in February 2016. But the idea had been brewing since a 2012 summer trip to Kenya where I had the chance to meet and speak to 10 adolescent girls who shared with me the challenges they face as girls in their communities and expressed their desires for role models.
Over the past two years, it has been an eye-opening and amazing experience working to achieve the SEGEI vision of a world where every girl and woman feels empowered to reach their full potential.We began as a blog and letter-writing initiative to encourage girls about the value of education and the importance of staying focused in life. I have watched as the #StrongEnough idea has grown into a movement of solidarity and progress for girls and young women globally.
To achieve our vision, we leverage on the power of partnerships and thus far, it has been fruitful. We are presently partnering with the Seattle Girls’ School in the US to promote trans-cultural experience sharing among girls. Whereas our vision may sound lofty, it is the kind of world we are working to build. For us, we must visualize the kind of environment we want to live in; an environment that supports the positive development and contribution of all human beings.
Girls and women have been sidelined for most part of history. Through our work at SEGEI, we are reminding girls about God’s desires for them – to be strong, healthy, and have a future with hope as equal partners in development – not society’s expectations of them. In summary, it has been an exciting past couple of years filled with visible signs of impact.
Through our work in remote communities and in public and private secondary schools in Nigeria, we are transforming girls to have more confidence, to have an identity of their own and advocate for their rights. Our sisterhood continues to expand as many young women are choosing to be #StrongEnoughGirls.
How does bridging the gender gap in education and achieving inclusive and equitable education (SDG 4) for girls empower them economically?
At SEGEI, we say (and believe) that an educated girl is an empowered girl. When we provide equal opportunities for girls and boys to attend school and get quality education, we ensure that society can benefit from their combined contributions. What does going to school do for a girl child? It opens up her mind to think up innovative ideas and solutions. It allows her the opportunity to build social and critical thinking skills as she works with peers on school assignments.
Education provides girls with literacy and numeracy skills which impact girls’ earning capacity. When a girl can read and write, her chances of taking up leadership roles in her home and society increases. When girls are educated, they earn more money. Every additional year of secondary education increases a girl’s wages by 10-20%, according to the 2012 Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship Report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
More earning capacity makes it possible for women to invest in their children, families and communities. Inclusive and equitable education reduces poverty. Educated women have healthier families. Because health is wealth, each member of the family can contribute to the economic growth of the nation. Education equips girls with strategic thinking skills to be able to come up with ideas for businesses. Teaching girls to have vocational skills is also a form of education.
Girls who complete primary and secondary education are likely to earn income, have less unwanted pregnancies and disrupt the cycle of poverty. Half of a nation’s economic growth results from higher levels of education, according to the 2012 Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship Report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
If young Nigerian women were employed at the same rates as young men, the country would add $13.9 billion to its annual GDP. There’s no other truth than knowing that investing in girls is smart economics, for all.
What do the SDGs represent to Africans in terms of lifting them out of poverty and achieving prosperity?
The SDGs represent a guide for assessing progress being made in terms of development (economic, social and environmental) in Africa. Africa as a continent continues to experience critical developmental challenges including poor infrastructure, poor educational systems, poor maternal and child health outcomes, and severe poverty.
For Africans, the SDGs represent the ideal situation for comfortable human existence, characterized by agreed objectives. The 17 SDGs and their 169 targets envision a world without poverty, where no one dies of preventable causes and environments that won’t be destroyed by human-made and/or natural disasters.
By reducing the large numbers of people living in poverty and transforming the poor state of education, we will be creating a thriving continent. The SDGs remind us that the work still continues; as our population continues to expand – thanks to our bulging youth population – we must think strategically to ensure that the earth and our resources can accommodate us all. The SDGs represent what can be achieved if we set our minds to do the right things and take proactive actions.
What do you think are the major inhibitions for girls in terms of accessing education and achieving economic empowerment in Nigeria?
Major inhibitions for girls accessing education and achieving economic empowerment include: lack of societal value for the girl child and her need for education; gender stereotyping and social norms that relegate girls to being seen but not heard, thereby stifling their voices and self-confidence; long distances to schools (many rural and remote communities do not have primary and secondary schools); violence and abuse against women and girls; as well as lack of role models and mentors for girls.