Girls Just Wanna Have Mentors

Nigerian broadcaster Abigail Ekiotenne has a demanding professional schedule, but she makes plenty of time to advise African girls who seek guidance on the path to adulthood. That’s the mission of Girls Impact Network (GIN), an NGO that enlists professional women to act as mentors for girls. This crucial role goes unfulfilled too often in a culture that otherwise teaches boys to lead and girls to follow.

Healthy messages for girls often start with profound questions that experience can inform. What is the value of an education? How should girls manage relationships? What career goals are realistic? Does poverty limit horizons? Must girls submit to arranged marriages if a family demands it?

Lack of a mentor when she needed one motivated Mrs. Ekiotenne to launch Girls Impact Network. When she was a young teenager, her father died. Providing a roof over the family and food on the table fell to her mother. Amid financial struggles, the family’s standard of living dropped.  Mrs. Ekiotenne’s self-esteem suffered. “We could not afford the basic things other children from well-to-do homes could afford,” she recalls. “I felt different and unfortunate.”

Raising four children as a widow was tough but her mother never lost sight of their future. Toward that end, she ensured that Abigail’s siblings, including a twin brother who always stood up for her, got an education. But ultimately, because their mother spent so much time at work, they had to navigate life on their own.

Without guidance, Mrs. Ekiotenne made youthful mistakes. Relationships interfered with her studies. She did not pursue leadership opportunities because, according to prevailing wisdom, they were meant for boys.

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She stayed in school nevertheless. An education restored her self-esteem. It exposed her to prominent women in in the world of media. She admired Oprah Winfrey who overcame humble beginnings. She looked up to Mo Abudu, one of Nigeria’s top media moguls. Their stories inspired Mrs. Ekiotenne to dream of becoming a broadcaster. She viewed them as mentors. As she progressed in media, other successful women nurtured her confidence.

A determined journey into broadcasting encouraged her to embrace leadership and responsibility. Today, Girls Impact Network prepares girls to lead by debunking male-dominated views of leadership.  Remove that psychological barrier, says Mrs. Ekiotenne, and girls can see great futures ahead.

Her empowerment messages online span many topics. Among them, “Your Voice is Your Power” urges young women to speak up for what they want without waiting for approval. “The world would never give you that opportunity,” Mrs. Ekiotenne says. “You have to create it.” In “One Reason why You Should Stop Trying to Please People,” she advises girls to raise expectations for themselves in 2019.

Big Group

Now married and raising her own children, Mrs. Ekiotenne also counsels boys to abandon an outdated narrative. She warns them to look critically at confusing media messages that diminish or dismiss girls. “Girls are sisters, not objects to be used or taken advantage of because they seem weaker.”

Thankfully, modern Africa is changing. For girls, gender does not have to constrain destiny. In the media community and other vital fields, opportunities are opening. Women in Africa are achieving success in science and technology. As more women flourish, the virtuous circle of mentors and girls expands. Says Mrs. Ekiotenne, “the foundation is right for more girls to become leaders.”

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