FEATURE STORY December 5, 2019

Nigerian Girls Rising: Voices from Adolescent Girls

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ABUJA, December 5, 2019 – A girl born in Nigeria, if  she survives her foundational years, has a 40% chance of getting married by the age of 15 and is likely to become a mother before she reaches 17.

Known as the continent’s giant, Nigeria is also at the center of the global learning crisis. According to the World Bank Group’s Human Capital Index, a child in Nigeria today is expected to spend eight years at school, yet when compared with actual learning – the results show an average learning of only 4.25 years – half what would be expected.

Basic education is free, yet parents are paying high fees for school registration, books and Parent Teacher Associations which represent a huge burden for vulnerable families. As a consequence, parents often prioritize the educations of their sons over their daughters.  

Educating and empowering girls is the closest to having a silver bullet in the fight against high fertility, high maternal and child mortality, and inequality. Data show the solution is simple; keep girls in school and there will be fewer adolescent girls getting married, less teenage pregnancies, and more healthy mothers and babies. Hence a multi-sectoral and long-term approach are critical for human capital development. As part of this effort, the World Bank has committed to work with the government and is preparing the “Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment” project, which will support improvement in access to quality secondary education, and girls’ empowerment with market relevant skills and reproductive health education.

Meet three adolescent girls and a teacher from Kebbi in the North of Nigeria, who shared their stories and their aspirations for the future.

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Education to fight for inclusion

Hadiza, 17, does not remember when she lost her hearing following a long illness. She is now in her final year of secondary school and is studying at the Kebbi State School for Special Needs. She wants to go to college to become a teacher and return to her school to share her experience and teach students with hearing impairments.

“When you are deaf, it is difficult to find a job; a lot of us are facing discrimination,” signed Hadiza. “If I had the power to change things, I would try to raise awareness and assign roles to different agencies to stop discrimination.”

Nigeria has the youngest population on the continent, with more than 40 million adolescent boys and girls. This number will double by 2050. This means that the country will need to ramp up its health and education services and be able to equip young people with the right skills and provide enough jobs for the next generations.

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It is because of my father that I started learning how to read and write

Asmau Makiyu Diri is the first born of a family of six girls. She loves singing in her spare time and wants to become a medical doctor. It is with the help of her father, a teacher himself, and her strong will power that she has been able to overcome her challenges at school and learned how to read and write in English. Asmau will graduate from Dr. Amina Abubakar Government Girls College this year and hopes to join a college in Kaduna state where her family lives.

“I know I will face many challenges, but I know I can overcome them,” Asmau said with a smile.

“When I started primary school in Diri (a town in Kebbi state), I could not even spell my name…. If not for my dad, I would be sitting at home without knowing anything.”


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Schools to keep our girls safe

Many girls travel a long way on dangerous roads to reach school and many also have to stay in boarding schools far from home if they want to continue their education. The threat of being kidnapped or violently harassed is a reality for many girls and parents are concerned.

For Amina Mauhammad, a science student, education is the only escape from the many dangers that adolescent girls are facing. Amina, 16, wants to become a nurse and save lives. She is a head student in her class and shows great determination. She explained why she likes to go to school and shared her dream for the future of her country.

“Without science there will be no doctors, no medicine and no electricity,” she said. “I want girls to be educated because if they are educated, they will have jobs and help their husband to do the home activities.”


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Equal opportunities in education

Ahama Asmau Gwandu has been teaching for 28 years and is now the principal of the Government Day Secondary School in Kebbi. She is passionate about teaching girls and is very proud of her young daughter who is now studying in university.

“A lot of parents would rather spend the little amount of money they have on the boys because the male child is the one that will look after the home and their parents.” For Ahama, “female and male students should be treated equally. I would love to have a free Nigeria where each and everybody can move freely and have equal opportunity in education.”


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Girls in Nigeria are rising and want an opportunity to fulfill their dreams and aspiration for a better future. Some Nigerian states have piloted some innovations to tackle learning poverty. As part of a larger education program, Edo state is using technology to deliver scripted lesson plans to teachers, track teacher attendance, and provide timely feedback to improve teaching. Kaduna state was also able to improve teachers’ performance.

An African proverb says, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, if you educate a woman you educate a nation”. For many development practitioners and World Bank experts, educating girls may be Nigeria’s best hope for a prosperous future.






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