Carolyn Seaman is a trained lawyer with over fifteen years of experience. For nearly two decades, Seaman who is also a Tech Women Fellow has been advocating for the rights of women and girls in the society. She is doing this through her organisation known as Girls Voices Initiative which she established some years back in order to educate and empower adolescent girls and women to identify their voices and use it to advocate for their rights.
Speaking in a recent interview with Newsbeats, the legal luminary explained that she delved into education and empowerment of girls and women because she believed that it was a critical element of national development.
“Statistics show that girls are still excluded from educational opportunities. Statistics reveal that 13.2 million children are out-of-school in Nigeria with 60 per cent of this being girls.
“And if Nigeria is to advance in achieving gender equality and providing equal opportunities for girls and women to access opportunities and have their rights upheld, then education and empowerment of girls and women cannot be overemphasised.
“We focus our work on rights education for girls. Our research in 10 public secondary schools in the FCT showed that 92.3 per cent of the girls had a vague idea of the existence of laws that provides for them as only 7.7 per cent of the girls we engaged in the research could articulate some of the rights they believe they have or the names of the laws that provide for those rights.
“This shows that the education of girls even in the academic environment needs to be strengthened if our society is to produce girls and women who have a good knowledge of their rights and can demand the protection of those rights were violated. This underscores my interest in the education and empowerment of adolescent girls and women in Nigeria”, Seaman added.
Another reason that motivated her to move into education empowerment of women and girls was her desire to permanently change the lives of women folk positively.
Explaining further, she said: “We needed to look for sustainable interventions that will produce lasting results beyond the 2-3 days’ workshops that are conducted for women and are expected to magically make them political leaders or corporate leaders of repute. To change the narrative, we had to change the approach. We believe in targeting adolescent girls early so investment in their education and leadership skills can guarantee a sustainable impact that transcends generations. This underscores my belief that girls are a force for change in our society’’.
Talking about Child marriage, she described it as a major challenge facing young girls across the nation adding, “Research reveals that 44 per cent of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and 18 per cent before they turn 15. “Although extensive research is still needed to provide specific data to show the prevalence of child marriage in various regions of Nigeria.
“I believe that in-depth research will expose Child marriage to be a major challenge across Nigeria. There are communities in the east that also marry off their girls from 9 years old and rising research in the south-south has recently exposed the practice of money marriage which also a reflection of child marriage where girls are given out in marriage as a form debt repayment.
“We consider child marriage to be a major challenge in Nigeria as we can estimate that almost half the population of girls in Nigeria are married before they turn 18 which is the minimum age of marriage according to the Child Rights Act, 2003”.
Highlighting some of the dangers associated with Child marriage, Seaman affirmed that it does not only disrupts the education of girls but also impacts girls’ health when they get pregnant early and give birth early.
In addition, she said the girls could also encounter complications in childbirth and even become affected by advanced challenges like cervical cancer and other health issues.
“Child marriage tends to complicate the development of a girl and interfere with her dreams and aspirations and no girl deserves that,” she said.
Enumerating some of the projects her organisation had embarked on so as to address child marriage in Nigeria, she said: “From 2018-2019, we implemented the Supporting Women and Adolescent Girls (SWAG) through Empowerment programme as part of the Right of a Girl Programme funded by Mundo Cooperante. The programme targeted married adolescent girls and young women in Kaduna, FCT, and Gombe states which respectively represent the North West, North Central and North East of Nigeria. The programme reached married girls whose education had been stalled because of marriage and provided them with vocational skills in tailoring.
“They also received apprenticeship and entrepreneurship training to support them to build cooperatives and help them raise sustainable incomes to support their families. The women have built personal agencies, have strengthened their experience in tailoring and are building their businesses to sustain their livelihoods”, she added.
On what her organisation is doing to reduce the high rate of out-of-school girls, she said: “Girls Voices Initiative is proud of the platform it provides for girls to champion advocacy for their rights because it is the backbone of our work. We started out educating girls about the Child Rights Act, 2003 and the various provisions that provide for their rights and welfare in Nigeria. The girls have found their voice and are passionate about championing advocacy for their rights, particularly ending child marriage, ending gender-based violence, and promoting girls’ education.
“Some of the platforms we have created for the girls has provided them with the opportunity to engage with policymakers and key influencers to share their experiences and demand policy actions to better protect girls’ rights. And we are working to expand those interactions so girls can better monitor policymakers and their commitments to girls.
“We believe that there is a need for additional models, success stories of girls and how education has transformed their lives and empowered them to transform their communities. So, we work with vulnerable girls in the public secondary school system and target them with rights education, leadership, and skills training to expand their education and their capacity to access opportunities that improve their livelihoods. We reach girls that are unable to access such training like house helps, orphans or girls and these girls know about their rights, know where to go to demand the protection of their rights.
“They have also learned various technology skills including coding, digital art, and illustration, and the like and they are using these skills to carry out advocacy projects on girls’ rights issues in Nigeria. This is how girls are supporting ongoing efforts to promote girls’ education in Nigeria.
“Our organisation also works extensively across national, regional, and international levels. On the international level, as members of the Girls Not Brides global partnership, we contribute to the global partnership to end child marriage.
“On a regional level, we are members of the Africa Action Group to end child marriage and we are also members of the Civil Society Organisations Reference Group to African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage. On a national level, our organisation co-chairs the Coalition of Civil Society to End Child Marriage in Nigeria. Our membership and engagement on these platforms empower us to share learning and explore innovative interventions to address child marriage and promote girls’ education in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world”.
Looking at some of the ways women and girls can explore technology and digital media to catalyze social change in Nigeria, Seaman said: “We are in a technology-driven world today and technology skills are the most valuable skills to possess in these times.
This, she explained influences their work to promote Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) education for girls.
In her words: “We invest in tech advocacy programmes for girls. I will highlight our coding programmes for girls as our hackathon programmes particularly target girls with training in design thinking, research and coding that empowers the girls to empathize with social issues that affect girls in society so they can carry out research that influences their innovative solution to those issues.
“The girls in our hackathon programmes have designed mind-blowing technology innovations including web and mobile applications and even prototypes of chips to address kidnapping and trafficking in children, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence. To mark the recent International Girls in ICT Day, the girls engaged an online hackathon where they explored technology solutions to problems that have worsened for girls because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown.
“The girls created mobile applications to empower girls to report gender-based violence and another app to empower girls to report school dropouts and child marriage in Nigeria. This is targeted at addressing the estimated 10,000 daily gender-based violations that girls and women are at risk of as well as the girls that are feared to be married off during the pandemic and may not return to school as the schools resume.”
She described the Media as a powerful tool for awareness and enlightenment and added that today’s media had moved beyond entertainment to include edutainment.
She said: “And to promote advocacy through media, our organisation launched the Girl Nation project, a social impact film project targeting female undergraduate students with technical filmmaking skills and support their production of compelling stories about girls’ and women’s rights issues in Nigeria.
“The premier edition empowered 213 female students from the Bayero University Kano and the University of Abuja with filmmaking skills and they produced documentaries and short films that have and continue to screen online and offline to challenge social norms and mobilize community action towards the empowerment of girls and women.
“The films produced from the launch edition addressed themes of girls’ education, child marriage, kidnapping, sexual harassment and rape, and other issues. The current edition of the Girl Nation project is expanding to include female students in the University of Calabar to take on some themes that are peculiar to girls in the south-south region. The Girl Nation project not only empowers young women to use media to amplify advocacy for girls’ and women’s rights, but also empowers the beneficiaries with technical filmmaking skills that support them with additional means of livelihood”.
Speaking on the challenges she encountered and how she was able to navigate through, the legal practitioner said it ranges from the challenge of the nation’s massive population.
“There are so many adolescent girls to reach with little funds to implement our programmes with the girls that need them. However, we continue to overcome this challenge by nurturing our domino effect which continues to guarantee that the girls that we can reach join us to continue to reach even more girls with education about their rights and various skills empowerment training.
“Take for instance, one of the girls that recently participated in our coding programme and won our hackathon pitch competition alongside her school team used her Christmas holiday to train other girls in her village. This underscores the power of girls’ leadership in our work” she added.
Another challenge, she said was the poor implementation of the Child Rights Act, 2003 in the states that have domesticated the law and the failure to domesticate the law in other states across the country.
This she pointed out had continued to leave several children, particularly girls to continue to suffer various violation of their rights without redress.
However, she stressed the need for Nigeria to do more for the girl-child.