I was once a girl child. A nurtured, loved, protected, girl child.
I wish that were the norm.
I remember my teacher in primary school taking a little bit too much of a liking — an inappropriate liking, to me.
I remember the day he told me I had gotten several answers wrong in our end of term examinations and wouldn’t ‘come 1st’. He said because he loved me, he wanted me to ‘come 1st’. He gave me a list of the right answers and told me to erase my wrong ones, insert the right ones and I’d be ahead.
I remember how it felt, I knew it was all so wrong. I also knew I was not going to go along with it. I knew I was going to tell on him. I knew I had done nothing wrong, and I was not going to.
I asked him what position I’d come if I chose the truth. He told me I’d come 9th. In that moment I became very proud of being the 9th. I’m sure considering the situation, I’d have been proud of being the 26th of 26.
I knew all this because I was LOVED. I was HEARD. I was NURTURED. I was taught VALUES of respect — respect for self, respect of others and respect for the truth. I was taught love, I was taught honor, I was never taught FEAR. In fact I was taught that no matter how small I was or felt, if I had courage, then fear would dissipate just as I got uncomfortably close to it.
I told my mother what had happened that day.
My teacher had gone on to tell me to hurry up and fix my wrong answers. I did not, I was doodling and strengthening my quiet resolve to not do anything wrong — even if the adult that I was supposed to be learning from had so obviously lost his way.
I told him I wanted to come 9th — it was more me anyway. I had earned the 9th position and I could live with it.
He told me it was okay, and then he kissed me on my cheek — today I’d call it a peck but back then it was a kiss to me.
He lost his job.
That day I went home and told my Mom. My Mom told my Dad. My parents requested a meeting with my principal. And my teacher was dismissed.
I had two cousins in my class, two boys. they lived close to my school. So to enable my parents have the meeting with the Principal, my siblings and I walked to their home after school, waiting to be picked up.
My now dismissed teacher got there before them! While my parents were still discussing with my Principal, and immediately after being fired — my now former teacher walked down Inuwa Wada road to find me at my cousins house.
What had he come to do?
He tried to guilt me. To guilt me into thinking I had somehow done wrong.
I knew I hadn’t. But as a 9 year old girl, trust me, his hollow words still somehow dragged my happy soul down.
Now as an adult I imagine the nerve, the unrepentant gall he had to show up there.
But that is what many victimizers do. They play the victim. Even when it’s obvious how much hurt they have caused others.
You know why? Because once upon a time, they had been the victims. And they believed they were victims, they accepted victimhood, and once victimhood is internalized, then everyone else is to blame but yourself. Once you cannot self reflect and self correct, you become a person who victimizes others.
But I digress.
Today is international day of the girl child. All children are vulnerable and in need of nurture, protection and care, as mother of a boy child I root for our boys.
But once I was a girl child who escaped sexual abuse. 1 in 3 women worldwide are not so lucky and have experienced physical or sexual violence. I escaped because the most important adults in my life nurtured me to have enough trust in them to come to them for help, to speak up for myself and to be ‘A okay’ with myself just as I was. And that has continued to make all the difference in who I can be.
This year it has been 25 years since the adoption of the ‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’ — the global agenda for advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls, everywhere. However in many parts of the world progress for adolescent girls has not kept pace with a vision of world where all girls have the opportunity to: live free from gender-based violence and harmful practices; learn new skills towards the futures they choose; lead as a generation of activists accelerating social change.
Today under the theme “My Voice, Our Equal Future” I encourage you to make a decision to nurture the girls in your life. Make them feel safe around you, make them believe they will be listened to about little things and about big things. Because sometimes the things that look little can have tremendous impact. Inspire the girls in your life to see themselves as leaders who can instigate the change they want through small actions that may one day have enormous impact.
Celebrate the life gift we receive in girl children.