As a young girl growing up in the Northern part of Nigeria, I was bold among family and friends but shy to strangers. Life begun for me in secondary school when I joined the Red Cross Society and was trained as a Home Nurse. The experience was exciting, and I discovered I enjoyed being of help to people.
Moving on to the University in 1992, I witnessed a conversation between a family friend and course mate with a total stranger. This young man wanted to purchase something he apparently knew she sells; condoms. I was perplexed, how in goodness name was she selling condoms? Forget the fact that I was seeing what condoms look like for the first time. I wasn’t naïve because I knew what condoms where used. After the transaction, a follow-up discussion with my friend led me to join a Peer Education Programme on HIV/AIDS being implemented within the University Premises. I got trained and started sharing information among students on HIV and AIDS. I sold condoms, did condom demonstrations with the use of a wooden penial model, and I carried a bag with stickers on them that said, “I’m a Peer Educator, ask me about HIV and AIDS;” another one read, “I carry my condoms, I don’t take chances.
While doing all of this I discovered my passion and the boldness to do more for humanity. My friend also introduced me to Women in Nigeria (WIN), one of the first feminist movements in Nigeria. As the youth wing of WIN, we were mentored and given the opportunities to participate in trainings, annual general conferences, programme and project activities among others. Attending a Pre-Beijing Youth Conference was one of such opportunities I was accorded. Ahead of the 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing, I was among the youths who developed the message to be delivered in Beijing on behalf of Nigerian youths and was also among the youths who attended the Post-Beijing Youth Conference. This conference birthed the Nigerian Youth AIDS Network (NAYN) for which I became a State Coordinator. I became a female advocate and activist for youth involvement, participation and leadership. I became more knowledgeable, more confident and bolder as my beliefs formed. I recall now with smiles how almost everything I did back then was related to ‘Beijing’. If I questioned my Dad’s authority, it was because of ‘Beijing’, if I turned down a guy’s overture, it was credited to ‘Beijing’! I couldn’t engage in discussions and arguments among friends and course mates without ‘Beijing’ being thrown at me. Even lecturers had something to say about Beijing and I.
So, 25 years down the line, it’s been an interesting ‘Beijing’ journey for me. Girls, young ladies, and women have recorded individual wins in small spaces of influence. I tell girls and young ladies of today to take charge of their lives, seek knowledge and information for personal development. Use the internet and social media for learning and growth. Stand up for what you know is right, ask questions when things don’t sit right with you. Seek for clarity, seek to know, seek to learn. Support others like you, build each other up, it’s high time ‘girls supporting girls’, women supporting women’ becomes a reality. Girls are truly a force to be reckoned with. Be Unscripted, be Unstoppable.
As told by Vivian Efem-Bassey