In Conversation with The Director of the Nigerian Association for Women's Advancement
Chidera Efueme Naomi | Lagos, Nigeria In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly designed a collection of seventeen interlinked global goals called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These global goals were designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030”. The agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all. The SDGs were adopted as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The SGDs are built on the principle of “leaving no one behind”. The SDGs are designed to bring the world to several life-changing ‘zeros’, including zero poverty, hunger, AIDS, and discrimination against women and girls. Since the implementation of the SDGs in 2015, all the nations of the world are striving to achieve these goals by 2030. Countries in Africa which are generally referred to as third world countries have put in place strategies to achieve these goals in order not to be left behind. In Nigeria, a country in West Africa the prospects of achieving these goals are relatively low due to the issue of corruption and bad leadership. Notwithstanding all these issues, many institutions have been put in place by the government or set up by private individuals to achieve these goals. I will be focusing on the fourth sustainable goal which is quality education. Goal 4: Quality Education The fourth Sustainable Development Goal states, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. This goal strives to obtain numerous targets which include; free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education for both boys and girls, elimination of gender disparities in education as well as equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university. This goal is broken into ten targets for it to be achieved efficiently. Achieving these targets in Nigeria is daunting due to the country's poor education system. According to the World Economic Forum (2017), Nigeria ranks 124th out of 137 countries in terms of quality in primary education. As reported by UNICEF, “one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria”. This reveals to us the reality of education in Nigeria. Even though primary as well as secondary education is completely free and compulsory in Nigeria, about 10.5 million of the county’s children aged 5-14 years do not attend school. Only 61 percent of 6-11-year-olds attend primary school regularly and only 35.6 percent of children aged 35-59 months receive early childhood education. The Northern part of Nigeria, represents a majority of the children out-of-school. The educational gap between the Southern and Northern parts of Nigeria is constantly growing. According to Creative (2017), more than 30 percent of school aged children in Northern Nigeria do not have access to basic education. This is due to the issue of insurgency as well as their religion that restricts the girl children from obtaining an education. The issues of gender inequality in education in this country are very prevalent due to certain traditional misconceptions. This, therefore, leads me to the target that strives to solve these issues, Target 4.5. SDG 4.5 The fifth target under the fourth goal says, “By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in a vulnerable situation”. This target points out two major things; gender equality and inclusion and equity. Inclusion and equity mean that all people irrespective of sex, age, race, color, ethnicity, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property or birth, as well as persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples, and children and youth, especially those in vulnerable situations or another status, should have access to inclusive, equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities. Gender equality in the aspect of education signifies that all girls and boys, women and men, should have equal opportunity to enjoy education of high quality, achieve at equal levels, and enjoy equal benefits from education. Girls and young women, who may be subject to gender-based violence, child marriage, early pregnancy, and a heavy load of household chores, as well as those living in poor and remote rural areas, require special attention. The policies created towards achieving gender equality are more effective when they also promote health, justice, good governance, and freedom from child labor. Nigerian Association for Women's Advancement (NAWA) NAWA is a non-profit, non-governmental educational and welfare trust founded in 1992. It aims to achieve quality education for women and girls. The vision of this organization is to see every Nigerian woman equipped with an integral education enabling her to play her rightful role in the family, the workplace, and the larger society. In an interview held between the Director of NAWA and myself, there was a lot of light shone on what is being done to ensure gender equality and inclusivity in Nigeria. She mentioned how all the projects are open to girls and young women of all backgrounds, this achieves the goal of inclusivity. As the name of the organization implies (“Women Advancement”), all the projects are organized to focus on the education and empowerment of the girl child. These projects enable young girls and women to recognize that they are the backbone of the family and they too can occupy important leadership roles and contribute to their different areas of jurisdiction. “The act of being able to stand for what you believe in and what is right or wrong is being a leader” C: What does education mean to you? D: Education to me goes beyond the typical definition or idea that one has of education. It exceeds the aspect of facilitating learning and acquisition of knowledge. The true meaning of education lies in the root word of education, “educere”. The Latin word “educere” means to draw out. The clause to draw out enables us to understand that there was already potential in the person and all we are doing is chipping away the crude parts. Michelangelo said it best, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there; I just have to chisel away the superfluous material”. C: What led to the startup of NAWA? D: This organization was formed to solve the issue of gender inequality in our nation. Due to some traditional and religious beliefs, we realize that the education of the girl child was neglected. This made us embark on our first project, The Lagoon School. This school was made a single-sex school to focus and pay attention to the development of the girl child in a comfortable environment. C: In the vision of NAWA ‘to see every Nigerian woman equipped with an integral education” is mentioned. What does integral education mean in that context? D: An integral education means the process of impacting social, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual knowledge. It surpasses learning skills and obtaining degrees. Integral education includes the impartation of values and morals that enables that child to make important decisions on a day to day basis. Most times in our society and world at large, academic excellence is more prioritized in comparison to strong morals. Through integral education, I wish to create a balance. C: Inclusivity is a major aspect of target 4.5, how is that being made possible in this organization? D: In my knowledge of target 4.5, it involves people having access to education regardless of their social class, sex, ethnicity, religion, etc. Inclusivity is achieved in our first project, The Lagoon School. The school is open to girls from all cultural, religious, social, and ethnic backgrounds. Through inclusivity, education is made attainable. This is because it gives every girl child an equal opportunity to obtain an education. Scholarships are also awarded to children who have difficulties paying fees as there are about a hundred students on scholarships in The Lagoon School. C: What projects have been carried out by this organization to ensure that there is access to quality education? D: Like I mentioned previously, the Lagoon School, which is our first project is an all-girls school created to facilitate the education of the girl child in a comfortable environment. There is also the Elara Study Centre which is known for its study program: Study Programme for Eager Students (SPES). This program is an after school study activity. It has graduated over 300 well-formed young ladies who have shown responsible leadership in their various universities as well as the different sectors of society. We have many other projects that can be seen on our website. C: What does this organization wish to achieve by 2030? D: Everything this organization wants to do has already been started. Nevertheless, by 2030, we wish to have completed more projects, expanded to more parts of the country, and impacted positively on the lives of all the young women we come in contact with.