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1.1 Background to the Study

In many African societies, gender roles, cultural norms, and societal expectations can have a significant impact on the self-esteem of girls and young women. This study aims to explore the effects of these factors on the self-esteem of girls and young women in Nigeria. It is important to understand how these cultural and societal influences shape their perceptions of themselves and their abilities. It is crucial to address this issue and promote a positive and empowering environment for the girl child in order to foster their self-esteem, personal development, and overall well-being. 

The concept of the girl-child refers to the specific stage of development and societal role attributed to girls during their childhood. It recognizes the unique experiences, challenges, and rights associated with being a girl in various cultural, social, and economic contexts. The girl-child concept emphasizes the need to address the specific needs and vulnerabilities that girls face, including but not limited to access to education, healthcare, protection from violence and exploitation, and opportunities for personal and social development (Iortyer 51). It recognizes the intersectionality of gender with other factors such as age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geographic location, which can further shape the experiences and opportunities available to girls.

Self-esteem is a psychological concept that plays a fundamental role in shaping an individual’s overall well-being and sense of self-worth. It refers to the subjective evaluation and perception one has about their own value, capabilities, and significance as a person. Self-esteem encompasses both cognitive and affective components, involving thoughts, beliefs, and emotions related to one’s self-perception. It is influenced by various factors, including early childhood experiences, social interactions, achievements, and personal characteristics (Akalor 21). Healthy self-esteem is characterized by a balanced and positive self-image, where individuals have a realistic yet positive view of themselves, acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses while maintaining a sense of self-acceptance and self-respect. It is associated with numerous benefits, such as increased resilience, psychological well-being, and the ability to navigate life’s challenges with confidence and optimism. Conversely, Mangai (23) postulated that low self-esteem, marked by persistent self-criticism, self-doubt, and a negative self-concept, can significantly impact mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life. Developing and nurturing a healthy self-esteem involves self-reflection, self-compassion, setting realistic goals, cultivating supportive relationships, and challenging negative self-perceptions and limiting beliefs. It is an ongoing process that requires self-awareness, self-care, and a commitment to personal growth and self-improvement.

One of the primary factors influencing the self-esteem of the girl child in African society is the prevailing gender inequality. Many African cultures have deeply rooted patriarchal systems where the male child are traditionally considered superior to the female child. This can lead to discriminatory practices and limited opportunities for girls, resulting in feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem (Longdet 19). Girls may be raised with the belief that their value lies solely in their ability to fulfill domestic roles and that their aspirations and ambitions are secondary to those of boys. Such gender-based discrimination can hinder the development of self-esteem in girls and perpetuate a cycle of inequality.

Education plays a pivotal role in shaping the self-esteem of the girl child. Access to quality education is essential for empowering girls, expanding their horizons, and enabling them to develop self-confidence and a positive self-image. Unfortunately, in many parts of Africa, girls face significant barriers to education. According to Stephen (44) factors such as poverty, cultural biases, early marriage, and gender-based violence can limit their access to schooling. Without education, girls are more vulnerable to societal pressures and less likely to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for asserting themselves and pursuing their goals. Education plays a crucial role in empowering girls to break free from the cycle of poverty and oppression. By providing them with knowledge and skills, education equips girls with the tools they need to navigate the challenges they face, both within their communities and beyond. When girls are educated, they are more likely to make informed decisions about their health, pursue higher education and career opportunities, and contribute to the development of their communities. Therefore, it is imperative that efforts are made to address the barriers and ensure that every girl has access to quality education.

Another aspect to consider is the impact of harmful cultural practices on the self-esteem of girls in African societies. Practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and witchcraft accusations can severely damage the self-worth and confidence of young girls. FGM, for example, not only causes physical harm but also reinforces the belief that a girl’s worth is tied to her chastity and conformity to societal expectations (Adams 88). Similarly, child marriage robs girls of their childhood, educational opportunities, and personal agency, further perpetuating feelings of powerlessness and low self-esteem. Witchcraft accusations, on the other hand, can lead to social isolation and psychological trauma for young girls. Being labeled as a witch can result in being shunned by their communities, leaving them feeling rejected and unworthy. These harmful practices not only suppress the potential of young girls but also hinder their ability to develop a strong sense of self and confidence in their abilities. It is crucial that societies work towards eradicating these practices and create safe environments where girls can thrive and believe in their own worth. Efforts to eradicate such harmful practices and promote gender equality are crucial for safeguarding the self-esteem and rights of the girl child in African society.

Media representation also plays a significant role in shaping the self-esteem of girls. In many African countries, media often portrays women and girls in limited, stereotypical roles, reinforcing societal biases and narrow beauty standards. This can lead to a distorted self-perception among girls, as they internalize these messages and compare themselves to unrealistic ideals. It is essential to promote diverse and positive representations of women and girls in the media, celebrating their achievements, capabilities, and diverse identities (Manji 56). By showcasing strong and empowered female role models, the media can play a pivotal role in boosting the self-esteem of the girl child.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The problem of the girl child and self-esteem in Sefi Attah’s Everything Good Will Come and Amma Darko’s Faceless delves into an in-depth examination of the self-esteem challenges faced by young girls as depicted in these novels. By scrutinizing the narratives and experiences of the female characters, the problem seeks to shed light on the various factors that contribute to low self-esteem among girl children. These factors may include societal expectations, gender stereotypes, cultural norms, limited access to education and resources, oppressive systems, and experiences of discrimination, objectification, or violence. Understanding these influences is crucial to comprehend the complex interplay between societal pressures and individual identity formation, which ultimately affects the self-esteem of young girls.

Furthermore, the work aims to explore the consequences of low self-esteem on the personal development of girl children. It examines how diminished self-worth can hinder their emotional well-being, educational attainment, career aspirations, interpersonal relationships, and overall life satisfaction. Low self-esteem may lead to self-doubt, a lack of confidence, feelings of inadequacy, and a diminished sense of agency. These negative consequences can perpetuate cycles of disempowerment, limiting the potential and opportunities available to young girls as they navigate their lives.

1.3 Aim and Objectives of the Study

        The aim of the study is to analyse the girl child and self esteem in Sefi Attah’s Everything Good Will Come and Amma Darko’s Faceless.

It’s objectives are:

  • To analyze the portrayal of the girl child in Sefi Attah’s Everything Good Will Come and Amma Darko’s Faceless in terms of their socio-cultural background, familial relationships, and societal expectations.
  • To examine the challenges and struggles faced by the girl child in relation to self-esteem within the contexts of Nigerian and Ghanaian societies.
  • To explore the role of education, empowerment, and agency in the development of the girl child’s self-esteem in the novels.
  • To investigate the influence of socio-cultural factors, such as patriarchy, traditional norms, and gender roles, on the girl child’s self-esteem.
  • To critically analyze the ways in which Attah and Darko challenge and subvert prevailing narratives and stereotypes concerning the girl child and self-esteem.
  • To identify the potential strategies, resilience, and empowerment exhibited by the girl child in their journey towards self-esteem and personal growth in the novels.

1.5 Significance of the Study

            The importance of this study cannot be underemphasized. The following are individuals who will benefit from this study:

  1. Researchers and Scholars: This study provides valuable insights into the representation of self-esteem in the context of girlhood and the challenges faced by female characters in the novels. Researchers and scholars interested in gender studies, African literature, or psychological aspects of self-esteem can benefit from the analysis and findings presented in this study.
  2. Readers and Literature Enthusiasts: Readers of Sefi Attah’s Everything Good Will Come and Amma Darko’s Faceless can gain a deeper understanding of the portrayal of self-esteem in the novels. This study can enhance their appreciation of the works and provide them with additional perspectives on the experiences of the girl child.
  3. Feminist Activists and Advocacy Groups: The study sheds light on the importance of self-esteem in the lives of young girls and the potential impact of societal factors on their development. Feminist activists and advocacy groups working to empower girls and promote gender equality can utilize the insights from this study to inform their programs and initiatives.
  4. Educators and Teachers: The study can be a valuable resource for educators and teachers who incorporate these novels into their curriculum. It offers critical analysis and interpretations of the themes of self-esteem, allowing educators to facilitate meaningful discussions and promote self-confidence among their students, especially girls.
  5. Parents and Guardians: The study can be beneficial to parents and guardians of young girls, as it highlights the significance of fostering healthy self-esteem in children. By understanding the challenges faced by the girl child and the factors that can impact their self-esteem, parents and guardians can take more informed actions to support and uplift their daughters.
  6. Literary Critics and Reviewers: Critics and reviewers who analyze and evaluate contemporary literature can use this study as a reference point for assessing the portrayal of self-esteem and girlhood in the works of Sefi Attah and Amma Darko. The study’s analysis and findings can contribute to the broader discourse on these novels and the authors’ literary contributions.

1.6 Authors’ Biography

Sefi Atta

Sefi Atta, a Nigerian-American novelist, short-story writer, playwright, and screenwriter, was born in January 1964. Her literary works have been translated into numerous languages, while her radio plays have been broadcasted by the BBC and her stage plays performed internationally. Notable accolades include the 2006 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and the 2009 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa.

Born into a family of five children in Lagos, Nigeria, Atta’s father, Abdul-Aziz Atta, served as the Secretary to the Federal Government and Head of the Civil Service until his passing in 1972. She was raised by her mother, Iyabo Atta. Atta attended Queen’s College, Lagos, before continuing her education at Millfield School in England. In 1985, she earned a B.A. degree from Birmingham University. Subsequently, she became a chartered accountant in England and a CPA in the United States, where she immigrated to in 1994. In 2001, Atta obtained an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles.

Married to Gboyega Ransome-Kuti, a medical doctor and son of Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Atta is a mother to their daughter, Temi. Atta completed her creative writing program at Antioch University in Los Angeles. Her short stories have graced the pages of literary journals such as The Los Angeles Review, Mississippi Review, and World Literature Today. She has also contributed articles on Lagos and Nigeria to renowned publications like Time and Libération. Additionally, her books have been translated into several languages. Notably, her debut novel, Everything Good Will Come, received the esteemed Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Atta Girl, Atta’s Lagos-based production company, actively supports Care to Read, a program she initiated to raise funds for legitimate charities through staged readings.

Amma Darko

Amma Darko was born in Tamale in 1956 from Northern Ghana, she moved years later to the Ashanti Region. She studied at the University of Kumasi, where she received her diploma in 1980. Afterwards she worked for the technology consultancy centre. Then, in 1981, she travelled to Germany, now she is living in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. She is working as a tax inspector; this work gives her a lot of inspiration because she deals with interesting cases and people. She is married and has three children, so all together there is not as much time for writing as she would like to do.

On her writing, Darko had always loved books, but books were hard to find when she was growing up. She especially missed books about the experience of ordinary people living in contemporary Ghana. She chose a radical solution to her problem to write those books. Her first novel was published in Germany under the little Der Verkaufte Traum (Schmetterling Verlag, 1991) and consequently in English as Beyond the Horizon (Heinemann, 1995). It is the story of a Ghanaian woman who finds herself in a German brothel through a marriage fraud. The book was ranked among the top twelve of the 1995 Feminist Book Festival in Britain. Her second novel, The House Maid (Heinemann, 1998), explores the complex relationship in contemporary rural Ghana where modernity, delivered through the media, increasingly penetrates tradition, but finds little nurturing soil for lack of education. Her third novel, Faceless (Sub-Saharan Publisher, 2003) tells the story of street children in contemporary Accra. With a sense for naturalistic detail and humor, Darko explores the vicious cycle created by the worst injustice while placing the story into a larger socio-political context.   

1.7 Theoretical Framework

When discussing the topic of “The girl child and self-esteem” in Sefi Attah’s Everything Good Will Come and Amma Darko’s Faceless, a suitable theory to explore would be Feminist Theory. Feminist Theory focuses on analyzing and challenging the social, political, and economic inequalities experienced by women and girls. It examines the ways in which gender roles and expectations impact women’s lives and aims to empower women by advocating for gender equality.

Feminist theory is a broad and diverse field of thought that examines the social, political, and economic inequalities between genders and seeks to understand and challenge the ways in which gender shapes our experiences and identities. It encompasses a range of perspectives and approaches, but all feminist theories share the common goal of advocating for gender equality and addressing the systemic oppression and discrimination faced by women.

Feminist theory emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a response to the unequal treatment of women in various spheres of life, including education, employment, and legal rights. It has since evolved and branched out into multiple strands, each with its own focus and analytical framework. Some prominent strands of feminist theory include liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, intersectional feminism, and postmodern feminism.

Liberal feminism emphasizes individual rights and equal opportunities for women within existing societal structures. It seeks to challenge legal and institutional barriers that limit women’s access to education, employment, and political representation. Liberal feminists advocate for gender-neutral laws and policies that promote equality.

Radical feminism critiques the fundamental structures of patriarchy and seeks to dismantle them. It views patriarchy as the root cause of women’s oppression and argues that gender inequality is deeply entrenched in social, cultural, and political systems. Radical feminists advocate for the complete transformation of society to eliminate gender hierarchies.

Marxist feminism analyzes gender oppression through the lens of economic exploitation. It argues that the capitalist system perpetuates gender inequality by devaluing women’s unpaid labor and reinforcing traditional gender roles. Marxist feminists advocate for economic and social reforms that address the material conditions of women’s lives.

Intersectional feminism recognizes that gender intersects with other social categories such as race, class, sexuality, and ability, creating unique experiences of oppression and privilege. It highlights the interconnected nature of various forms of discrimination and aims to address the overlapping systems of power that affect different groups of women in diverse ways.

Postmodern feminism challenges traditional notions of gender and rejects the idea of a fixed, universal woman’s experience. It emphasizes the plurality of women’s identities and experiences, exploring how gender is socially constructed and performed. Postmodern feminists critique essentialist views of gender and seek to deconstruct dominant cultural narratives.

Intersectional feminism can be applied as a theoretical framework for analyzing the themes of gender, identity, and self-esteem in Sefi Attah’s Everything Good Will Come and Amma Darko’s Faceless. Intersectional feminism recognizes that gender intersects with other social categories, such as race, class, and socioeconomic status, and that these intersections shape individuals’ experiences of oppression and privilege. In the context of these novels, intersectional feminism allows for a nuanced understanding of how various factors interact to influence the girl child’s self-esteem and agency.

Origin and Definition of Feminism

            Etymologically, the word feminism is derived from the French word feminism which in turn is from the Latin femininus, from fémina which means “woman”. The word “feminism” was first used in English in 1851, originally meaning “the state of being feminine.” Feminism as used in the sense of advocacy of women’s rights is from 1895 (Wiktionary 105). By way of definition, Hawkesworth (12) defines feminism as a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal; to define, establish and achieve political, economic, personal and social equality of sexes. This definition has obvious strength such that it is almost all encompassing for one; it shows the broadness of the philosophy of feminism. It mentions that feminism is found in politics, in inter-personal and social relations, in the economy and all areas of life of the human kind. And the goal of feminism too, is that, it is a movement that seeks to bring about equality of sexes. However, one cannot help but observe the deliberate non-mention of “women”. This gesture alone throws this definition to a wider range of criticism such that one wonders if it has any merit at all. For a movement that has women in the center not mentioning the woman can be dangerous. Angrist, Bettinger and Kremer (23) declares that many people inside and outside of the academy, the word ‘feminism’ continues to inspire controversy and to arouse a visceral response – indeed, even to evoke fear. If words and the concepts they convey can be said to be dangerous, then ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ must be dangerous words, representing dangerous concepts’. it becomes natural then that one must exercise a lot of care and caution when one defines the term/concept feminism. Therefore, Ankomah (63), define feminism as “a theory and/or movement concerned with advancing the position of women through such means as achievement of political, legal or economic rights, equal to those granted men” this definition will seem better since it tells categorically that it is women’s “advancement” that is being pursued through feminism, pre-supposing by extension that the woman as it were was/is suffering from some sort of deprivation if not marginalization.

            According to Anyadike and Odoemena (55) in the 19th century, Europe for instance, feminism had moved away from “pursuing” as it were to “equal rights” with men. for seeking equality of rights with men proposes the standard of male adulthood as the norm. Therefore, the Europeans thought that the American kind of feminism that sought equality of rights was “bias”. Yet, according to Atuhaire and Kyomuhendo (74), some of these women clearly considered themselves to be feminist and were so considered by their contemporaries. Now even though Babatunde and Akinwumi (31) rejects this preposition, claiming that the leaders of German women movement never used the terms “feminism” and “feminist” it otherwise saves us from the stereotypical view of what the terms “feminism” and “feminist” broadly entail.

            This much that has been said, the questions still remain, what is feminism? How do we understand feminism across national boundaries? Across cultures? Across centuries? Bala and Musa (91) proposes a “historically based definition of feminism”. And certain propositions must be appreciated for a better understanding of this definition. First, that feminism must henceforth be viewed as a rapidly developing major critical ideology or system of ideas of its own right. Again it must be seen that as an ideology, feminism incorporates a broad spectrum of ideas and possesses an international scope, one whose developmental stages have historically been dependent on, and in tension with male-centered political and intellectual discourse. Therefore, the following definition of feminism is proposed by Srinivasan (79) and is adopted for this study. Feminism emerges as a concept that can encompass both an ideology and a movement for socio-political change based on a critical analysis of male privilege and women’s subordination within any given society.

            As the starting point for the elaboration of ideology, of course feminism posits gender or the differential social construction of the behaviour of the sexes, based on their physiological differences, as the primary category of analysis. In so doing, feminism raises issues that concern personal autonomy or freedom (Bello & Abdulrahman 88). Feminism opposes women’s subordination to men in the family and society along men’s claims to define what is best for women without consulting them, it thereby offers a frontal challenge to patriarchal thought, social organization, and control mechanisms. It therefore seeks to destroy masculinist hierarchy but not sexual dualism. Feminism is necessarily pro-women. However, it does not follow that it must be anti-man. After all, there is more than enough evidence that, from time past to date, the most important advocates of women’s cause have been men. Feminism makes claims for a rebalancing between women and men of the social, economic and political power within a given society, on behalf of both sexes in the name of their common humanity, but with respect to their differences.



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