By Carol Natukunda and Pricilla Butera
Socially, over the years, the girl child has evolved from the underage teenager waiting to fulfill the dreams of cattle-hungry parents, to independent and self-reliant professionals, taking on roles that were once only reserved for their male counterparts.
Disciplines like medicine, law, journalism, politics, business, engineering, are no longer mentioned with entirely sexist connotations.
Big names of powerful women such as Julia Sebutinde, Rebecca Kadaga, Winnie Byanyima, Cecelia Ogwal, Maria Kiwanuka, Miria Matembe, and many more today are testimony of how much the girl child will achieve when given a chance.
Granted, the girl child in Uganda has not yet reached the level where tradition and government policies stand in her favour. However, most parents are no longer asleep on the job. But the question is: Is there a fomular for raising the girl child into a role model like these powerful women?
If you are a career-oriented parent, raising a girl to be as successful as you are in career and family takes a lot. One of the ways is leading by example.
Girls who grow up seeing their mothers harvest life’s achievements are more likely to want to be like them when they grow up. Similarly, fathers who encourage their daughters to become achievers in life stand a chance of raising achievers. Such parents give the girl child confidence that they can achieve anything and that certain things are not just for men.
Former Uganda Investment Authority boss Maggie Kigozi says her mother was a strong and hardworking person who was not afraid of daring into traditionally male-dominated sports.
“My mother worked hard to look after us. She was a cyclist and loved car racing. I am the only girl in a family of five. So when my four brothers (the Blick family) warmed up to her sport, I inevitably took interest. I knew I had to be confident and do what the boys did, not to see cycling as something for boys only.
“Actually, I used to ride my bike to school. Even the time I was at the medical school, I had my bike. My mother was very much interested in my life. She spoiled me though. She loved sweets and she gave me money to buy them all the time,” Kigozi says.
For Dr. Grace Nambatya Kyeyune, the Director of research at the National Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Laboratories, one outstanding factor that helped her grow into a successful woman was parents who valued her views.
The pioneering natural health expert says: “Most parents dictate to their children, but mine gave us a listening ear.” She says that giving girls a chance to be heard contributes to their success.
Do not waste the chance
Susan Nalwoga is a counsellor who mostly talks to girls about good morals and responsible living. She says parents need to make time for their daughters, so as to instill in them general life skills, which will help them to be successful at school, in their families and careers too.
“Girls do not acquire life skills when they are 40 years old. They should be nurtured right from the start to be hardworking, reliable, as well as self-reliant,” she says.
Nalwoga adds that parents, especially mothers or mother figures, should make an effort to explain to the girls in their care what it entails to be a girl and a maturing woman. They should encourage them to embrace and appreciate their womanhood.
According to Nalwoga, girls are very fragile and emotional; they respond to and easily believe what they are told. It is the role of their guardian to raise and groom them into successful and responsible citizens with a sense of self-worth.
“If you tell a girl that she is of no use, that is what she will believe and will not make any effort to be relevant.
“If you tell her that she is ugly, she will believe that and her self-esteem will be crushed. It is even worse when the negative comments are given by parents,” she says.
The counsellor says besides guiding girls, it is important to boost their confidence.
“Praise them when they do well, and apologise when you offend them. That way they will also learn to apologise when they do wrong,” she says.
She also says girls need to be reminded by their parents that they are beautiful and that they are loved. If girls only receive negative comments from their parents about the way they look, once they hear it from people of the opposite sex, especially those with ill-intentions, they will be thrilled and easily fall prey.
How to raise a successful woman
Be her friend
Choose for her a good school with a reputation for grooming women of excellence
Praise her when she does something good.
Give her responsibilities
Say positive things about her life and what she hopes to become
Apologise when you offend her
Tell her often that you love her
Live by example
Treat her mother with respect
Build her confidence
Most girls today are faced with mixed messages about themselves. Parents should, therefore, be pro-active, and empower their daughters to decipher these messages and make good decisions.
Girls usually start off life at full steam, about everything. They are the early talkers, girls are social butterflies and usually the “A” students.
But then again, along the way, a confusing blend of new social pressures, greater expectations and mixed signals from the society distract them and corrupt their judgment. As a parent, you need to build your daughter’s confidence for the tricky years ahead, so that they can be successful in all aspects of life.
Encourage assertiveness. Teach your daughter to express her needs to adults and stand her ground with peers.
Be specific with your compliments. Be more expressive and detailed with your praises.
Let your praise match reality. Do not lie to your child or exceedingly flatter them. Let them know what they should work upon to be better.
Help your daughter understand that sometimes she may be criticised or rejected. Teach them how to accept this gracefully.
Encourage her to be socially active.
Do not make assumptions about her strengths and weaknesses. Guide her to nurture her strengths and improve her weaknesses.
Encourage a healthy body image. Remind your daughter that she is beautiful.Prepare her for sexism. Point it out to her that girls can be as good as boys.
Point out female role models, as you live by example.