Girls can be trailblazers: My journey into the world of gender advocacy to end child marriage
Gender Advocate Odonghanro Dorinda shares her inspiration for working with girls and adolescents to promote gender equality and end child marriage in Nigeria.
A little about me
My name is Odonghanro Dorinda. I am the last child of my lovely parents, born and brought up in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria. I am a first responder for girls and women who experience gender-based violence in Lagos State. I am also a Gender Advocate working with the Coalition of Civil Society to End Child Marriage in Nigeria, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage and UNICEF to promote gender equality and end child marriage in Nigeria.
I am committed – in my personal and collective journey as a Gender Advocate – to advocating for girls’ rights, and to joining forces to build more sustainable structures so girls and women can be stable pacesetters, trailblazers and goal-getters, alongside boys and men.
What inspired me
My mother of blessed memory told me her story of how she suffered as a young girl who didn’t have the luxury of going to school at the time she was supposed to. Help was far from her even though she loved education. Her story motivated me to always say: I want to help the less privileged ones around me.
Growing up, I saw people – especially girls – drop out of school for so many reasons. I saw and heard girls being abused, treated wrongly and made to believe they must submit to the authority of every man, no matter the situation. I have met with many girls who are suffering in their places of work, homes and society. They often don’t know how to express themselves, and where to go for the support they need.
I realised girls and women have rights that they know little or nothing about. The fear of societal norms makes so many swallow up whatever tragic situations they are going through, and prefer to rather die in silence.
And then the issue of child marriage started rising so much that I started to crave finding ways to support these women and girls. So, the desire to become a Gender Advocate and the reason why I became a Gender-Based Violence First Responder.
What keeps me going
The issue of child marriage is eating deep into my country and this is threatening the future of millions of girls: 43% of Nigerian girls marry before 18, and the country is ranked 3rd in the world for absolute numbers of child marriage. Most of the needed actions have started but still aren’t reaching a large enough population, so it feels like nothing is being done.
I’m so concerned because reaching out and raising awareness with girls, women, men and their communities is a start, but infrastructure and continuous support is also needed to support girls to avoid child marriage.
One day, I want to look back and say I was one of the advocates who successfully addressed child marriage in Nigeria. That idea is enough to keep me going.
Why I set up the "I Am a Girl Not Bride Club”
I sat down in deep thought and realised that anyone should be able to achieve what they want if they are determined, consistent and conscious in all their actions. But because of gender inequality girls will only have the same opportunities as boys when the right support systems are in place.
The adolescent stage is an inquisitive stage, where adolescents are exposed to a lot of social pressure and if they don’t know their rights or see that they have opportunities outside child marriage, they may not make informed choices.
I started up the “I Am a Girl Not Bride Club” in two secondary schools in Nigeria. The Club works with adolescent girls to create a safe space, raise awareness of their rights and potentials, and raise Gender Advocates to speak up for other girls who haven’t had the opportunity to explore their potentials.
My take on the gender-transformative approach (GTA)
GTA is the best approach to end child marriage. I say this because it is a way to engage women and men together as agents of change, especially around child marriage.
Not involving men will slow down the transformative process we seek because – especially in my country – most positions of power are held by men, making them the major decision makers.
GTA can be applied to many areas of work to reduce the risk of child marriage, including:
- Equitable economic development to reduce poverty, which is a key driver of child marriage.
- Keeping girls in school so they can complete their education and gain the knowledge and skills they need to become independent.
- Expanding opportunities for women to access quality, stable employment and gain financial independence.
- Improving girls’ and women’s awareness and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), so they can make informed choices about their own bodies.
- Involving girls and women in decision making in the family and the community, and even at the governmental level, so they are involved in and can transform the development process, ensuring it responds to their experiences and ideas.
Being involved in these spaces and learning about their rights strengthens girls’ and women’s decision-making power and skills, so they can help reduce or end child marriage.
In the time it has taken to read this article 52 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds
About the author
Odonghanro Dorinda is a youth activist, Gender-Based Violence First Responder and Gender Advocate from Delta State, Nigeria. She is committed to advancing girls' rights, so they can access the same opportunities as boys.
Region: Sub-Saharan Africa
Gender-transformative approaches to end child marriage
Effective and transformative approaches to end child marriage, advance gender equality and strengthen girls’ rights and agency.
Ending child, early and forced marriage is crucial to gender equality
This advocacy brief explores and documents how gender equality issues, identified during the Beijing +25 process, link with child, early and forced marriage.
Tackling the taboo: sexuality and gender-transformative programmes to end child, early and forced marriage and unions
Tackling the Taboo focuses on the need to address patriarchal control of adolescent girls’ sexuality in the fight against child, early and forced marriage and unions.