Efua Ansah is the first African, male or female, to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals. The 14-year-old competed this year against 285 spellers from the U.S., Japan, Canada, South Korea, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. Ansah was also the key-note speaker at the Day of the Girl Child Expo put on by the U.S. Embassy. Her speech was the highlight of the event. She spoke with eloquence as she described her personal experiences and goals for continuing to empower girls in Ghana. Here speech is printed here with her permission. Please take the time to read it and reflect on her words.
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
It is truly a pleasure to be invited to speak at such an auspicious event today. I have an admission to make and it is that girl emboldenment and female inclusion has always been something I have personally felt deeply about and stood for [although not so publicly and rather inwardly]. It is for this reason that I consider it incredibly amazing to be presented with this rare privilege of voicing my stance and joining in this global awareness creation movement. I have decided to theme my message "Why Girl Empowerment Matters."
Yesterday, which marked the 4th annual observance of the international Day of the girl child reflects the laudable extent to which the consciousness is being raised towards this direction. And by the way, UN INTERNATIONAL DAYS have always excited me.
However, the truth of the matter still stands that girls remain vulnerable to a remarkably wide array of challenges such as sexual assault, violation of their basic right to education and health care and being forced out of their volition, into performing barbaric customs, being overburdened with menial workload and street peddling to the extent of discontinuing with their education. To be honest, these aren’t challenges l can say l totally identify or relate with myself. The underlying reason why that is so is because of PRIVILEGE. The barrier that separates the enlightened from the the unempowered is privilege. I am fortunate to have had parents who believed in the essence of having an education and provided me with one. But can the same be said of the myriad other girls deprived of their right to education? Because this is a phenomenon that has come to be more commonly associated with girls from less income homes. And so what empowerment does is that it bridges the gap created by the absence of opportunity.
In fact, the reality of this only dawned on me in fifth grade, after we had been introduced to gender discrimination and human rights as topic. During those lessons (if you are wondering how come I remember them so crystal clear, it’s because they were always so emotional [with people protesting rabidly and crying]), but we would discover into detail the horrors of female-targeted cruelties such as Female Genital Mutilation [FGM], the Trokosi system and early, forced marriages, practices that are so deeply anchored in gender prejudices. What we found even more horrifying was that these weren't just figments from a past era that had eventually faded into oblivion, but that they were still in existence and had not yet been fully eradicated.
The question after the full epiphany of this struck me, became how come boys were never included in these rituals and why girls were always the victims. In my quest to find an answer to this, l recently read something from an article, regarding early marriages that literally grabbed my attention which I would like to share. It was that girls are considered as an additional burden and that poverty was a major deciding factor for early arranged marriages for girls as a family survival strategy.
Interestingly, for a long time this has been the severely distorted perception that girls have no need for an education. But I am glad to declare in all accuracy that this untruth has been countered. It’s clearly evident in the successes our outstanding women, since girls transition to become women. Classic among them are Lucy Quist, CEO of Airtel Ghana, a gender trailblazer in a field dominated by men. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first ever female African and current Liberian president, And finally one of my all- time personal favourite writers, Ama Ata Aidoo. These women send across a key message through their achievementand debunk the misconception surrounding girls’ ability to excel when given the chance to.
And so, the realization is sinking in, without any doubt, that girls can belong to any field to make extraordinary accomplishment and academic strides outside of traditional gender assigned roles like housekeeping. Global figures tell me that since 2012 literacy rate of female youth stand at 87%.
The positive thing about it is that the change we envision is in steady progress. But honestly, is it enough? Will a more intense approach be required to effect the change of a 100% realization.
Firstly, this will require an active participation by us all in the campaign against girl injustices. We should aim to tackle the situation by its roots through counseling of parents on the value of enrolling their girl children in schools and their role in ensuring they remain focussed on their academic objectives by not overburdening them with duties.
Moreover, there is the need for more social empowerment clubs for girls, keeping in mind they are made accessible to girls who urgently need them. I remember my days in primary school as a member of the Ananse Guide. Our motto was Empowerment of the Girl Child. The reason my membership left such a profound personal impact was because it allowed me to network with other girls and boosted my self image significantly. It is imperative that the voiceless were aided to acquire and find their own unique voices to freely and creatively express themselves.
In addition, formal education at all levels-that is basic, secondary and tertiary- should be made more easily accessible to girls living in remote and rural areas (dominated by gender stereotypes). The countless instances of girls dropping out at certain cycles in their education (regardless of whatever reason) should cease. There should be the global agenda to narrow gender gaps in school attendance by ensuring all girls have full access to their basic right to education. Let us not forget the wise words of Kwegyir Aggrey that to educate a girl is to educate a nation. Lastly, there should be a more rigid enforcement of the law. It is high time that girls were rescued form the indignities they encounter and that such indignities were completely abolished by making more help hotlines available and creating safe havens to provide the needed assistance to all girl victims of all forms of human right infringement.
I am hopeful of a change. I want to believe we are all hopeful of a change. But hoping should come with a sense of responsibility and should extend beyond passively envisioning the change we desire to actively ensuring we act on our strategies in achieving that change, shouldn’t it?
Thank you so much."