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10 March 2022 - Story

Interview: Breaking Bias as Save the Children's Youth Ambassador

Maryam Ahmed has spent years campaigning and advocating for children's rights in Nigeria, especially the girl child as our youth ambassador. For international women's day, it's important to also discuss the biases women face, and how girls can also be affected. Maryam answered a few questions, giving us the perspective of a young Northern Nigerian:


You speak out for children, including girls. What are your thoughts on this year’s IWD theme, ‘Break the bias’?

There has been some progress on gender equality, but children are still facing inequalities today, especially girls. Girls are still being told to stay in the background, to speak only when spoken to, to just stay on a fence and watch our lives be decided for us.

This means there is more to be done.

Just like harmful practices must be broken, these inequalities must be broken as well, and that’s why I feel #BreakTheBias is a great way to coin this year’s IWD theme because inequalities are chains that hold us girls back which need to be broken so we have the enabling environment to reach our full potential.


What kinds of bias have you seen younger women and girls experience?

In Northern Nigeria where I come from, boys are like the kings of a family. They are prioritized when it comes to food where, for example, they are given the plate that has more food and meat while the girls eat the smaller portions with no meat sometimes.

The boys are also prioritized when it comes to education; they go to school while the girls go hawking or become child brides.

What people might not have understood is that these inequalities translate into more issues. For example, if a girl is being given the smaller portion of food in the family, she might become malnourished which may lead to preventable sicknesses.

Another example is she might get abused while hawking which may lead to trauma, diseases, or death.


What kind of bias have you faced?

Part of my advocacy was safe space discussions where I go to grassroot communities to sensitize girls and discuss the issues we are facing. I remember the elders and community leaders being uncomfortable and feeling like I was trying to turn their girls against them. It took a lot of convincing for them to start being okay with the safe space discussions.

I feel it is because they fear that if we girls are enlightened and empowered, they will not be able to tame us and force us to be in the background.


Were you able to overcome those biases? If yes, how?

I overcame these biases by continuing to speak about these issues and raising awareness. I felt because these issues directly affect us girls, we are the best people to talk about them and what we want to be done.

I made sure I became an actor in my life and not an audience like our culture expects us to be.


There are also some comments about women’s participation in fighting climate change? Do you have any recommendations on this?

A lot of people in Nigeria likely don’t know what climate change and global warming mean, and a lot of pollution happens around us, but people don’t know how harmful the effects are.

The first thing I would recommend is sensitization on these issues. People need to understand the negative effects that occur because of our actions. Only then will we be able to stop these harmful environmental practices because change starts with one person, and if everyone is advocating and acting, we will see a change.

There are already policies here in Nigeria created for the betterment of our environment, therefore, our government should work with other countries to create simplified versions of these environmental policies so that people can understand them better and prioritize its implementation.


For girls who want to break bias as you have, what advice do you have for them?

I have 3 words, KEEP SPEAKING UP!

You will be met with a lot of barriers like people trying to discourage you, lack of laws or implementation of laws on the issue, lack of commitments from policy makers, and so on.

You just have to keep speaking up because there will definitely be progress, it might take time, but there will be progress.


Interview by Maryam Laushi