Huge silver pots, large food warmers, shiny wooden mortars and pestles are some of the gifts a bride gets on her wedding day. They reinforce her role as a homemaker and all belong in the kitchen. However, when I stumbled upon these same items in the computer laboratory of a public girls' secondary school in my community, my heart literally sank. The only computer in sight was a huge IBM computer covered in dust and just outside the school was a very busy market where more girls sold vegetables and young ladies served as porters.
According to the UNICEF Next Gen 2030 Report, as of 2015, the population of children under 18 in Africa totalled 560 million with girls representing the majority. If a girl has not started primary school by age 10, chances are she never will go to school in countries like Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Senegal.
These girls then become youths likely to face exclusion in addition to the discrimination based on their gender. One-third of girls in Africa are married off before their 18th birthday and in sub-Saharan Africa, there are over 29 million young women between the ages of 15 and 24 who are unable to read or write, let alone understand a medical prescription or help their children with homework.
This reinforces poverty as many of these youths have little or no skill set for employment and most often resort to becoming full-time housewives. With the fertility rate higher in poor homes and generally lower infant mortality rates (Generation 2030 Africa 2.0 Child Demographics in Africa), these women birth many children and their husbands find it difficult to provide for their large families.
This has contributed to an increased rate in domestic violence which many men resort to as a means of letting out their frustrations. The situation is worse for girls and young women in conflict zones who are easily sucked into terrorism.
Girls who are privileged to go to school are not totally barrier-free. Adolescent girls from poor homes and rural communities often have to deal with economic and social demands which threaten their education -- from walking long distances to fetch water every morning or selling wares in the market before they go to school, to adverse cultural practices like female genital mutilation or even the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products.
We need to spend more on educating girls and creating more avenues to harness the female youth population.
Schools that have shared or no toilets pose a risk to the health and safety of girls who would rather stay away from school especially when they are menstruating. The governments of many African countries are either in denial or have simply refused to consider critically their youths, especially girls and young women as a great pool of potential innovations which can drive regional development.
Governments need to do more than signing the dotted lines of charters and other international instruments. We need to spend more on educating girls and creating more avenues to harness the female youth population. This should also be supported by institutional structures and real-life workable policies that would enable these girls and women to optimise their potentials and make best use of opportunities afforded them.
By doing so, we would help an ever-increasing generation to transition properly into a future that would be inclusive in all spheres and on all levels while exploring a large human capital that can drive sustainable development across a rich continent.
It is the young trees that make up a forest and a wise farmer knows to invest in planting them while he can.