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This is the joint statement released by ISYI’s Council of well-being to commemorate the International Day of the Youth 2018 calling for urgent intervention in promoting young peoples sexual and reproductive health and right in Nigeria.

We begin this  on a very sad note following the report of the death of a friend, a university student from Abuja who lost her life to a very unsafe abortion last year. We happen to speak with a friend of hers who told us the whole story, a very pathetic story that left us in tears. She got pregnant and never did anything serious about it until at death point. She was 18, and in her second year studying Microbiology; vibrant, exceptionally brilliant and beautiful. She was very religious (her father is a religious) and that supposedly could be the reason why she could not disclose to anyone that she was pregnant, even her boyfriend. Maybe she was scared that her boyfriend would tell his friends who will tell their friends until the news gets to the ear of everybody. Her fear was that if people get to hear that she was pregnant, she will be disgraced: she will be sanctioned by her church, her parents will disown her and her friends will avoid her. So she went on silent about her predicament, perhaps doing some dangerous things or taking cheap drugs to remove the baby without anybody noticing, just to save her face. Later she told the boyfriend who bought her some abortive drugs from a local store. She took the drug and went to her lodge. In the mid night, her roommate noticed she was frequenting the toilet. She began questioning her. Then she opened up to her about what she has been passing through. That night alone she had exhausted 16 sanitary pads (one in every 30 minutes) in a failed attempt to control the bleeding. Around 3:00am, the bleeding intensified. Her roommate battled all through the night to save her life, but it was too late. At around 5:00am, she rushed her to hospital. The first hospital she was taken to rejected her; they were on their way to the second hospital when she died on the way. It was a very sensitive and critical case and w do not want to delve further into revealing more details about it in order to protect the privacy of the people concerned. May her soul rest in peace! This particular incident is just one out of thousands of similar incidents (perhaps not as  fatal as this but yet with some devastating health risks which may cause infertility or even death later on in life) that happen in our campuses and communities in Nigeria on daily bases. We are not surprised that most cases like this go unreported because no family would like to report such an incident and be labeled “immoral” and stigmatized.  Abortion is illegal in Nigeria, and sex before marriage or teenage pregnancy is a taboo. A family whose member was found to have indulged in abortion or sex before marriage faces stigmatization and abuse. So they prefer to bury their dead involved in such activities like unsafe abortion and sexual diseases without anybody hearing about it; in some cases they disown the person and send him/her off to live far away from home to suffer alone. So most young people do not have a choice than to do anything to save their face even if it is dangerous to their health. Unfortunately, this pathetic trend will continue to linger since young people do not have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services which will enable them to protect themselves and prevent “getting hit” or doing the right and safe thing when hit!

At the eve of this incident, we launched “Campus in Focus” investigation/research to find out how prevalent is this crisis of sexual and reproductive health amongst young people; our findings were mind-boggling. We are losing the lives of our vibrant young girls and boys at a horrific scale due to our inability to promote sexual and reproductive health that is focused on young people. We cannot continue to keep quiet about this. It is high time we intervened; it is time for us to take action!

More than half of Nigeria’s total population of 182 million is under 30years. The sexual and reproductive health issues afflicting young people in Nigeria poses a big threat to the country’s development. Lack of sexual health information and services make young people vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy.

Our findings in over hundred campuses and communities on the sexual and reproductive health issues among young people across the states could be summarized as follows:

  1. Contraceptive use is low and youth underestimate risks of unprotected sex.
  2. Young women are at risk of unintended pregnancy, often resulting in unsafe abortion.
  3. Youth are at risk of HIV and lack knowledge about STIs, including HIV.
  4. Social norms and attitudes towards traditional gender roles lead to unsafe sexual practices and young people’s biases to seek help from professionals which is why we are initiating a SRHR intervention program that is youth-focused and youth-run to inspire confidence in young people about their privacy with experts who are trained to be sensitive to their needs.
  5. Civil society organizations are implementing important advocacy and prevention initiatives which are mainly based in the urban areas for young people who have some knowledge about SRHR, and often neglecting young people in the campuses and rural communities, and those in the Northern part of Nigeria who also engage in sexual activities and have no knowledge of SRHR. This could be traceable to lack of funds and violence in the area.
  6. With a youth-focused intervention program on SRHR in the campuses and communities targeting the youth population in a particular area (community or campus) across the states, more than half of the risk of death, infections and unintended pregnancy among young people resulting from sexual and reproductive health crisis within the first year. In the long term, such programs will reduce sexual gender-based violence and promote gender equality in the society even when they are married.
  7. 90 percent of young boys and girls in conflict-ravaged areas like the states in the Northeast are at risk as most humanitarian interventions are focused on alleviating poverty and promoting peace, little attention is given to SRHR of young people.

But due to poor funding and lack of trained experts, delivering sexual and reproductive workshop or training to young people in these areas and to sustain the project is a difficult task. We are well aware of that reality, which is why we are utilizing the power of technology to break the boundaries and bridge gaps created by those shortfalls. Not only that, we are prioritizing impact-based implementation which will not only involve the young people but also the health workers in their campus. This is vital to ensure the sustenance of the program with or without funds from either either ISYI or our donors. We are committed to making young peoples sexual and reproductive health and right not only a priority in the country, but also a phenomenal movement!

At this juncture, let us consider the impact of technology in our most recent project.

In 2017, ISYI received a small grant, $10,000.00 from Options Consultancy UK, through The Girl Generation to raise 3 Million Young People to Stand for Up for three Million at Risk of FGM. The project was to be implemented in partnership with Arike Foundation in four universities in Nigeria, namely, The University of Abuja, Obafemi Awolowo University, Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), and Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike. Universities in the north were completely ruled out because of the persistent violent extremism in the area. The project was a six months project which was basically to conduct workshops in these campuses to sensitize students on the health implications of female genital mutilation (FGM).

We were supposed to hire four experts (resource persons) but considering the amount of money we had to work with and our insistence on impact-focused project implementation, we decided to use recorded videos of UNFPA’s best workshops on FGM and ours, and Facebook platforms to conduct the project instead of hiring four experts. However, we still had to send one coordinator from Abuja, a staff of our network whom we are not going to pay as much as we would have paid a hired expert from UNFPA, to travel to these campuses to coordinate the program together with other members of our network in these campuses.

Normally, the program should have been a once and for all workshop but due to the money we were able to save from hiring experts, we conducted the program two times, set up a stronger Students Anti-FGM advocacy group who would work in partnership with youths resident in the communities where FGM is most prevalent and granted them the small funds left to support their program and to sustain the impact of their work.

If we had not utilized the video method, hiring an expert and sending her to these four locations alone would have cost us a whooping sum of one N1.440,000 million naira(about 4000USD). If we spend such amount only on hiring an expert, how much then out of $10,000.00 USD do we have to conduct the program, pay participants DSA, technical assistance, staff, media, refreshments, etc.

Till today, the Students Anti-FGM advocacy that we established in those campuses are still functional, raising more young people to be part of the initiative and making greater impacts in their communities.

However, due to the complexity of the problem and the urgent need to reach as many young people we have to explore other technology-driven methods to promote young people’s sexual and reproductive health and right. Facebook video platform has great limitations which cannot achieve the result we want to see due to the fact that it does not allow us to engage fully with the participants especially when we want to interact with them and share materials. We want a video platform that will both engage the participants and foster interaction between the person on screen delivering the material and the participants.

UNFPA, The Girl Generation and Federal Ministry for Women Affairs and Social Development (FMWASD) have an amazing team of experts that we can leverage to advance young peoples sexual and reproductive health and right using this video conferencing technology. With just one expert and an effective video conferencing platform we could deliver comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and right workshop to hundreds young people in Nigeria at almost a fraction of the cost we would have used to send experts to these different locations. Apart that, we could also deliver the programs to young people in the Northern part of Nigeria which we have abandoned for some time now owing to violent extremism in the area. We have seen evidence of sexual and reproductive health catastrophe that young people in the area go through; so we cannot leave them behind anymore, especially at this time.

We have to emphasize that the adoption of this innovation was not done overnight. It is a product of careful and conscious decision and has the backing of so many people including the young people (end users), innovators, business and NGO leaders both in Nigeria and beyond having considered the great value it offers, and its amazing potential reach and cost effectiveness (saving up to 40% of the total cost of a conventional implementation strategy of flying resource persons to the different locations).

We hope this innovation would be a groundbreaking discovery and a great solution to the problems hindering delivery of intervention programs in Nigeria arising from poor funding, lack of experienced experts and geographical challenges. And we are lucky to have Gregory Daniels, a supporter of our organisation, newly employed by Zoom, one of the leading video conferencing platforms in the world. His skills will be instrumental in achieving our target. We also have Rufus tech, who is an expert in Cisco Webex, another giant platform in video conferencing. With this amazing video video platforms and which is utilized to receive instant messages and which allows all the participants to see other peoples opinions towards the topic being discussed, we are going to create an amazing experience which is going to be just as great as having the person delivering the material right there in their midst. And it makes monitoring and evaluation easy, donors or anybody else who was allowed access could even monitor the process and evaluate its effectiveness. It will also be saved in the cloud which could be accessed by anyone who was given access. This significantly can be useful in future for reference purposes or be kept as an example in case of replication in other countries which is within the discretion of the donor.

In the coming months, we would be exploring the best technologies and funding to achieve this target. We also have to reaffirm that our network members in these campuses who have benefited from training and workshop conducted by UNFPA, FMWASD and The Girl Generation on either SRHR, GBV,  M.E and Media would be instrumental as campus coordinators for the programs or project assistants. We would be relating latest developments on this issue as soon as they emerge.

ISYI Council of Well-being is an annual gathering of the youth coordinators and board of the network.The gathering usually comes a few days before the day of the commemoration of the International Youth Day. At the event, issues affecting young people both locally and internationally are discussed extensively and resolutions taken on the next line of action.

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