By Emma Beck, Associate Communications Manager, PSI
“I want all Nigerian girls to have the same job opportunities as boys.”
Beth shuffles her school books from one hand to the next.
“If a male can be President,” she challenges with a smile, “then why can’t a female too?”
This is Beth, a 15-year-old trailblazer on a mission to pass her school exams this week, to eventually work as an international journalist focused on promoting equality for every Nigerian girl and boy.
Beth knows that to achieve her dream, she can’t let obstacles get in her way.
But the realities are not in her favor.
Across Nigeria, girls face deep socio-cultural challenges in accessing the SRH services and products they need to make their health and life choices. The repercussions are high; in Southern Nigeria, 23 percent of girls will have given birth by the age of 19.
According to the Demographic Health Survey, some three in 10 girls aged 15-19 want but, for a myriad of reasons, don’t have access to modern contraception. And across the nation, 1 in 4 pregnancies among this age group will end in an abortion, many of which are unsafe.
The need to pave pathways for girls like Beth to make the decisions that shape their futures remains imperative.
Adolescents 360 (A360)’s 9ja Girls – a PSI-powered and Society for Family Health-implemented adolescent and youth SRH program– fills a growing need: working in partnership with A360 young leaders and across Nigeria’s public health facilities, 9ja Girls delivers girl-defined spaces for unmarried girls aged 15-19 to identify their dreams, and then understand the role contraception can play to take them one step closer to achieving their goals.
Beth walks boldly through the Agbelekale Primary Health Center, entering a backroom decked in a medley of bold purples, yellows and pinks. The space buzzes with the vivacity of the more than 20 girls sitting around the room’s five plastic tables.
A provider clad in a purple shirt splashed with the 9ja Girls highlighter yellow logo walks in. “Good morning,” her voice emanates with energy. “Can we get the 9ja Girls clap?”
A symphony erupts.
“You know what’s next!”
The girls break out into song.
“My life is mine to make. My heart may break but I won’t fake. My body is mine no one can take. I’m a 9ja Girl I’m awake. HOORAY!”
Some 20 arms punch up into the sky.
9ja Girls’ Life, Love and Health (LLH) classes run once weekly, transforming the community’s public health clinic into a space dedicated wholly to girls. LLH sessions spark dialogue to prompt girls to consider their life dreams and understand the steps they can choose to take to achieve their goals, of which includes planning for a family, whenever they are ready.
A 9ja Girls embedded, and youth-friendly trained provider leads private contraceptive counseling; all counseling centers around what girls have expressed as their main concerns: namely, potential for side effects and the assurance that all contraceptive methods are safe and reversible.
And while girls engage in counseling one-by-one, the remaining girls awaiting their turn take part in an entrepreneurial skills training to support their desire for financial independence.
This is change that catalyzes impact.
From January 2018 through September 2019, 9ja Girls has worked in nine Nigerian states to serve more than 69,254 15- to 19-year-old girls with modern contraception. Roughly seven in 10 girls who engage with 9ja Girls voluntarily adopts a method, and about seven in 10 choose a long-acting method.
“It feels good to have a space I won’t be judged,” Beth says. “In other clubs, you make a wrong statement and people criticize you. Here, you don’t have to be shy because no one will embarrass you.”
In the background, the provider prompts girls to open to their Life Map. It’s Beth’s favorite part. After all, it’s the weekly reminder of the goal she carries, and the career goal she’s driving toward.
“9ja Girls is all about girls. People say girls choose contraception because they are promiscuous. Or if you are married, it means you don’t want to have a child with your husband,” Beth explains. “But I know that contraception allows girls like me to reach their dreams.”