Nigeria is the most populous nation in sub-Saharan Africa, with 22 percent of the country’s population between the ages of 10-19 years. Data on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) outcomes in Nigeria highlight the importance of focusing on adolescents. Unsafe sex is a common practice among adolescents, including inconsistent and incorrect condom use, and can result in unplanned pregnancies that can end in unsafe abortions or life-threatening complications. This practice also exposes them to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV with a prevalence of 17% among adolescents in the south-eastern part, and 14% in the northern part of the country[1]. These statistics show the scale of the problem of adolescent pregnancy in Nigeria. The problem is partially compounded by the inability of adolescents to access contraception when needed and a lack of knowledge and understanding about menstruation — limitations which in most cases end in unsafe abortions.

This article reflects a six-month project on Promoting Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights of Young People in Gwagwalada Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Nigeria. A recent study by Goodyear, Armour & Wood (2018) suggests that young people are increasingly turning to social media for health-related information. A major win for this project was the use of Facebook and WhatsApp, creating a hashtag (#YouthSexReprodHealth) and using it to disseminate information to young people on these social media platforms. On Twitter, we used @abujaupdate which has a wider coverage to encompass the project site. Additionally, the use of a blog platform for dissemination of information was instrumental in reaching our target audience. Evidence suggests that when social media is used for health information activities, it is likely to generate a larger audience,[2] although, one study by Li et al. (2018) suggest that success requires users to actively participate.

At 15 years old, Amina was interested in acquiring knowledge on how to calculate her menstrual period and use condoms correctly. The lack of this knowledge changed her life course and she fell pregnant twice as a teenager. She aborted both pregnancies and has lived with stigma among her peers since.  Having very little knowledge about menstruation was a big blow for her as she felt she could not challenge her male colleagues in school because she was afraid that they would insult her by saying she always gets bloodstains on her clothes during her period. According to Amina, the majority of her female peers in school encounter the same challenges, often resulting in unplanned pregnancies and dropping out of school. In September 2018, Amina met the initiative staff and volunteers from Concern Women International Development. They were holding an outreach programme in her area on sexual reproductive health and rights and were using infographic leaflets to educate people on condom use, negotiation skills, menstrual hygiene and gender equity. She collected a condom and some sanitary pads from them, although she was very scared of taking the condom as she didn’t want her guardians to see it.

The team led by Concern Women International Development Initiative encouraged her to register her mobile number promising to add her on a WhatsApp platform which would help her get correct information on SRHR. She registered her name and mobile contact and went home reluctantly. The next day, she discovered she had been added to the YouthSexReprodHealth group. She started receiving a lot of information on SRHR, and became very active in the group, asking lots of questions and learning from other members. Within three months Amina said she discovered the platform was a safe space to discuss all of her sexual worries.  She also shared a few of her friend’s numbers and asked for them to be added to the group. The YouthSexReprodHealth group share information on how to calculate menstrual cycle, correct and consistent use of condom and safe sex practices.  Now, with the knowledge she gathered, Amina uses condoms with her boyfriend every time they have sex and he likes it!  With the SRHR knowledge she acquired through the platform, she no longer gets stained with blood during her menstrual period because she knows the date she is expecting her period and wears sanitary pads in advance, and also understands her fertile days. She has taken her awareness a step further and confided in us that she regularly takes condoms to school to educate her female peers on how to use them and share information on how to calculate their menstrual cycles. With encouragement and support from the Concern Women International Development Team lead, Amina established a club in her school called “Girls with Sexual Swag” where they share information on mensural hygiene, negotiation skills, family planning and how to prevent themselves from not getting HIV/AIDS. Through the club, Amina has reached more than 50 young girls with SRHR information. “Now I know what it means to have a voice that can make things happen”, says Amina.

“Amina has helped me to understand sexual reproductive health and rights and build my future because I can prevent myself from contracting HIV, negotiate condom use with my boyfriend and understand the precaution of early marriage. I will ensure I finish my graduate studies get a good job and choose the right partner who will support my dreams and my future.” (Munia---)

 

 

[1] UNFPA. Reproductive health of women. http://www.unfpa.org.Accessed Nov 30, 2018

[2] Devine et al. 2018; Hagg, Dahinten and Currie 2018; Ortiz et al. 2018

 

 

Chukwudera Bridget Okeke is an advocate and a Women Deliver Young Leader. The Women Deliver Young Leaders Program is a catalyst for rising advocates, providing access to small grants, training, a digital university, speaking opportunities, and networking. Since 2010, a total of 700 young people from 138 countries have increased their impact through the award-winning program so far. Many will be coming together in Vancouver this June for Women Deliver 2019, the world’s largest conference on gender equality. This piece was produced in partnership between Women Deliver and Wellbeing for Women.

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