ABUJA — Girl Rising and Equal Access International are teaming up to produce a vital new television program. Da Bazar Mu, which premieres on February 15, 2017, highlights girls’ education in Nigeria. The six-part miniseries follows twelve girls, six from Nigeria and six from around the world as they each struggle to get an education.
The program runs on Nigeria’s very own AREWA24, a locally broadcast network entirely in the Hausa language. The television network alone marks a turning point for Northern Nigeria as it serves the dual purpose of preserving local heritage and exposing cultural diversity.
The free-to-air satellite channel was founded by Equal Access International, a nonprofit seeking to educate rural areas through media outlets. In 2016, Equal Access International received the Microsoft Education Award for “its informative and educational media programs that address critical challenges, especially those focused on women’s rights and education.”
The show is co-produced by Girl Rising, a nonprofit that uses the art of storytelling to advocate for girls’ education in Nigeria and around the world. Girl Rising is also the title of its Emmy-nominated documentary.
Da Bazar Mu uses Nigeria as a stepping-off point, highlighting specific issues that hinder access to quality education. It then pivots, taking girls’ education in Nigeria and showing parallels around the globe.
According to the show’s press release, the show doesn’t stop there. Interviews conducted encourage viewers to “begin their own discussions on the value of education for girls.” With both Equal Access and Girl Rising being international organizations, why choose Nigeria?
In 2014, just a year before AREWA24 launched, 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram. Theirworld, a charity which advocates for children’s rights, reports that Boko Haram continues to use children as “human bombs.” In 2017, of the 83 children abducted for this purpose, roughly two-thirds were girls. Boko Haram teaches these young children that their lives are not worth living.
UNESCO reports indicate a historic underrepresentation of girls in Nigerian schools. As if the threat of violent extremism were not a good enough reason to stay home, many other factors affect girls’ education in Nigeria.
First and foremost is poverty. UNICEF estimates that 400,000 children living in northeast Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Of Nigeria’s 170 million people, the U.N. estimates a poverty rate of 62.6 percent.
The second factor in limited access to education is child marriage. According to UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report, 43 percent of women are married by age 18 and 17 percent by age 15. This statistic varies depending on the region, with northwest Nigeria reaching 76 percent.
The organization Girls Not Brides argues that “poverty, poor educational attainment, and strong social and religious traditions are drivers of child marriage in Nigeria.” This means that limiting factors of education are all interrelated and cyclical. The more children go without education, the more they marry at a young age, impeding them from getting an education later in life.
The reason that marriage becomes restrictive is that Nigeria suffers from persistent gender-based discrimination. According to an article published in the International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management, “women are under-represented in almost every sphere of social life.” The article evidences a gap in women’s access to economic opportunities, power, status and privileges in society.
Couple this persistent discrimination with attitudes of women’s inferiority and Nigeria falls victim to massive amounts of gender-based violence. According to a report from the U.N. Refugee Agency, internally displaced peoples (IDPs) have the highest rates of children out of school. The report indicates that IDP women and children continue to suffer rape, domestic and sexual violence and sexual exploitation.
An estimated 80 percent of IDPs are living outside of official camps. This severely limits their access to education and assistance.
As if violence and discrimination were not enough, a final limiting factor is child labor. According to a Department of Labor report in 2016, the Nigerian government is making efforts to end the practice by offering cash subsidies to families whose children enroll in school. Despite these efforts, the report states that “children are engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including…quarrying granite and gravel, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, and armed conflict.”
So, do AREWA 24 and Da Bazar Mu stand a chance at improving girls’ education in Nigeria? The network aims to reimagine Nigerian feminism. Two years in and the station receives incredible feedback. One viewer, Muhammad Abubakar writes, “AREWA24 has really brought a sensitization and positive enlightenment in our society. It has also made us a lot more tolerant and loving of people that are of a different culture and religion than ours.”
Perhaps humanizing these young girls in their fight to get an education can subvert violence against children and overcome persistent prejudice, one viewer at a time.
– Brandon J. White