Dr. Yakama Manty Jones
A combination of words dipped in love and belief to my daughters, Gold and Silver
Silver: "Mum, are you pregnant?"
Me: "Oi! What do you know about someone being pregnant?"
Silver: "It's when you have a baby in your tummy that becomes a new child."
Gold: Ahahahaha. Don't worry Silver; Mummy loves us toooo much. She's not going to have another baby. Mummy is that not so?"
Yes, this is what I have to deal with daily. Sometimes our conversations are more interesting, shocking (to me actually) and even borderline 'weird'. They are allowed to express themselves freely. In this way, their Dad and I can intersperse teaching, guidance and correction in conversations, games and other modes of learning.
Dearest Hedaya-Gold Neriah Mary Zaria Jones and Hedsania-Silver Anisa Yakama Durosimi Jones, I love you both more than words can express! I was indeed planning on delivering the Olympic medals. Plans changed when Silver showed up, umbilical cord knotted in a perfect bow, wrapped around her neck, and the most intense labour pains ever. Just thinking about them bring actual tings to my spine!! However, let's not rule out Bronze as yet, who might be my old age baby.
On 19th December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare 11th October as the International Day of the Girl Child. My Gold and Silver, today, 11th October 2020, the International Day of the Girl Child, you are part of a remarkable generation! You are amongst the world's 1.1 billion girls under age 18, poised to become the largest generation of female leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers the world has ever seen.
Nonetheless, I wish there was no need for a day dedicated to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. I wish there was no need for a day to recognize girls' rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. I wish girls were not being discriminated against, faced with gender-based violence and early marriage. I wish girls were not losing out to boys on opportunities for education and skills development. I wish girls were not facing other challenges that held them back from reaching their fullest potential.
I do wish empowering girls comes naturally to everyone. I do wish for a world where everyone recognise and practise everything required to show that girls are entitled to equal rights and opportunities. There is just one world. We are all humans. We all deserve the same opportunities. Don't you agree?
At the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, countries acknowledged the diversity of women, their roles and circumstances. These countries unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action "to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity". At this conference, it was recommended that the United Nations' General Assembly at its fiftieth session endorse the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Let's go back to the phrase, "in the interest of all humanity". Yes, my daughter's, protecting, supporting and empowering you, your friend and girls all over the world to reach your fullest potential is "in the interest of all humanity".
You must know that over that years we have been trying to make gigantic strides even though the outcomes are more baby steps, but we will get there – with each girl and for all humanity. When I think about the years of inequality, the patriarchy, the abuse, the violence, the lack of access to education and health, lack of free speech, other ills against women and girls, I wonder how humans arrived at the point where they failed to understand how powerful females are? How much potential we hold? How much positive change we can drive? How we can nurture the entire world? We birth humans!!! Duuuh!!!! What gender can be more amazing? (If you think otherwise, please move to Saturn)
For generations, we have been laggard!!! We have shot ourselves in the leg, nipped our aorta and attempted suicide by hanging! We are lucky that through ongoing efforts to recognise girls' rights and address the unique challenges girls face, we are being treated for some sort of delayed pulmonary oedema (yes, you can pronounce that and I'll explain the meaning). I am optimistic that this treatment will be successful.
Whilst there is national and global evidence of progress, I am explicitly highlighting that according to the United Nations Children's Fund, UN Women and Plan International's 'A New Era for Girls: Taking Stock of 25 Years of Progress, New York, 2020 Report', "while girls' lives are better today than they were 25 years ago, these gains are uneven across regions and countries. This is particularly true for adolescent girls."
My Girls, you might be wondering what this means in your world...
You go to school, learn, play and make friends. Not all girls around the world have been or can attend and complete even primary school. On a positive note, due to national and global commitments, according to the report, the number of girls out of school worldwide dropped by 79 million between 1998 and 2018. Today, two in three girls of secondary school age globally are enrolled in secondary school compared to only one in two in 1998. However, with substantial regional variations, your region, Sub Saharan Africa, is not doing as well as the other regions and continents. We'll continue to work!
Our Government, Development Partners, Non-Governmental Organisations and Private individuals have all joined the human capital development fight with deliberate efforts to accelerate positive outcomes for girls and create the spaces for them to be safe and become whatever they want to. Your Father and I are committed to ensuring that you attain the highest levels of education.
My parents supported me in my educational journey, and your Dad joined them too! Today, I work for the government, lecture at the university, co-run a business and own a literacy foundation whilst being your mummy.
Gold and Silver, you can study what you want and be what you choose to be. We are just here to guide your choices. You are free to be Princesses, Superheroes, Computer Scientists etc. You can study Maths, Science, Engineering, Art etc. May your gender not be the restriction, if any eventually emerges. The world is your canvas!
Can you recall how I ask you to join Aunt Fatu and me in tidying up your room? Asking you to clean up after you eat? Helping to prepare meals? It's not because you are girls; it's because these chores are life skills any human needs to have. Whilst household chores are a normal part of family life, according to the UN, "in more than five of six countries with available data, girls aged 10–14 years are more likely than boys of the same age to spend 21 or more hours on household chores per week". In West and Central Africa, especially, girls are forced to spend more hours doing chores (because they are girls) whilst the boys study, play and make friends. Unfair!!!
My daughters, there are even more harmful practices that I'll explain to you as you grow up. These practices hurt girls' bodies and minds. Just thinking about them gives me goosebumps and makes me incredibly sad and disappointed. However, there is hope! There are many young activists, older individuals, organisations and governments who are fighting to put an end to these ills.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I must say I am grateful to all who ensured that COVID-19 failed to halt advocacy, efforts to create safe spaces; interventions to empower girls to break boundaries, and other initiatives needed to collectively tackle issues affecting the current and future productivity of girls and their fundamental human rights.
Special thanks to the Government of Sierra Leone, the United Nations Family, other international development organisations, our indigenous institutions, organisations and individuals in this fight, especially our own Girls+ , Asmaa James Foundation and Purposeful.
Sorry girls!!! I can see you both doing your ' surprised face', 'confused face', and 'I don't know how to pronounce this word face'. I bet some of these words are not sounding as they are expected to, and you might not even comprehend some of these sentences. It's looking like puzzle time right? Do not worry, I'll explain everything, and we'll keep coming back to this from time to time. I want you, like millions of other humans, including myself, to add our voices for a future in which girls are considered and treated as equal.
I must confess your 'COVD-19 Stay at Home' shenanigans have been epic, especially our evening dancing!!! We are totally blessed to have you in our lives. Yes 'we', you know how I share some of your escapades with your Godmothers, Aunties, Uncles and friends I consider special.
I am thankful for how far you have come. I believe in God's never-ending mercies and grace in your lives. I am thankful for my circle too that are in one way or another contributing to your growth. It takes a village.
Yes, it takes a village to raise our children. It takes an even larger village to change the narrative for girls around the world. I am, and we must all be inspired by the current generation of adolescent girls that have a vision of the change they want and are leading and demanding for such change globally.
Gold and Silver, permit me to say a few words to your Aunties, Uncles and Well-Wishers and other humans walking this life's journey. To those already contributing in your own way towards a more equal world, thank you for all you do and never give up. May we continue and also bring others along to:
§ Empower girls and expand opportunities for them to be part of the decision making on matters that affect them—especially issues relating to their education, their bodies, their careers and their future;
§ Target investments in interventions that accelerate progress towards developing girls education and skills (including the Fourth Industrial Revolution), increasing access to health services and health information, ending child marriage, ending gender-based violence and grievous bodily harm;
§ Increase investments in comprehensive data and data systems to drive programme designs, evidence-based policymaking, and accountability. These data systems must make the marginalised and vulnerable subsets of the population visible. They must also take urban-rural divides as well as conflict and fragile settings into consideration;
§ Create and expand partnerships to foster women's participation in the labour market, enhance their economic empowerment and address persistent gender divides across sectors, especially in education, health and justice sectors;
§ Listen, learn, raise your voice, recruit and inspire others, especially adolescent girls and male allies, to strive for a more equal world;
§ Amplify the leadership, actions and impact of adolescent girls and girl-led organisations who are leading efforts towards gender equality and other positive social change in innovative ways;
§ Commit and hold ourselves accountable to make girls equal partners, living and solving humanity's problems for our collective good.
Girls all over the world will be workers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, political leaders and mothers. They deserve our unwavering support.
Back to you, Gold and Silver. Like other girls around the world, as we continue to strive for equality, remember rights come with responsibilities. I trust as you grow, you will continue to uphold your side of things.
Lots of love