Promoting adolescent access to essential health services – an interview with Olachi Peace, a member of YNAFGM
The BB-SATA Project is funded by AmplifyChange aimed at breaking all forms of barriers limiting adolescent girls from information and services related to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is active in Edo and Delta states.
In this interview series, our Technical Assistant- Onwuamah Udodi Stanley sits with our Programme Assistant – Olachi Peace Ojimadu to have a chat about her experiences working with adolescent girls in Edo and Delta states.
Please introduce yourself
Ms. Olachi Peace Ojimadu is a young entrepreneur and change maker, a reproductive health advocate and anti-female genital mutilation campaigner. She has years of experience working on issues affecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people especially women and girls. She serves as a programme assistant for the Youth Network against Female Genital Mutilation (YNAFGM) and currently, she is part of a team of YNAFGM implementing a project to improve access to information and services related to their health and rights as well as giving the capacity needed to exercise full Agency over their bodies.
Can you tell us why you joined the project, and why it is important to you?
I was driven by the need to improve equitable access to essential and quality sexual and reproductive health information and services. Current statistics on unsafe abortions in our focal states (Delta and Edo) by teenage girls and associated risks resulting from this gives me great concern. Most affected are teenage girls who become school dropouts, sustain long term injuries and even die from unsafe abortions. Poor knowledge has been identified as a root cause of the problem and it is because of this, I joined the campaign to provide information, promote access and create safe spaces where teenage girls can talk about issues affecting their SRHR. I want young girls to be able to make informed choices about abortion and this knowledge would enable them attain their full potentials. That is why I joined the BB-SATA Project.
How does the project support Gender equality?
The BB-SATA project is promoting the sexual and reproductive right of women and girls to access to safe abortion. This underscores dignity, equality and choice. Every woman should be able to determine for herself what happens to her body and if, when and how many babies she wants to have. This supports gender equality because it seeks to promote the idea that no woman or girl should be forced to keep a pregnancy against her will, or face health or legal risks as a result of having an abortion. Currently, the existing national anti-abortion law only allows for an abortion when the life of the mother is at risk, this has to change.
Tell us about the SRHR landscape in Edo state.
Data from the National Demographic Health Survey 2013 underpins teenage pregnancy to be on the high in some states in southern Nigeria including Edo state. Further, reports from advocacy groups working on SRHR issues suggests that teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortion is high in Edo state and this calls for immediate action.
Taking a general overview of the SRHR landscape in Nigeria, Nigeria is the most populous country in sub Saharan Africa. She has a very young population with the majority of the population being young people. This clearly underscores the importance of focusing on adolescents, which is why we are focusing on the teenage girls at Edo State.
Why do you think adolescent girls need access to information and services to safe access to abortion?
They say knowledge is power. Existing data on the contraceptive prevalence rate in Nigeria shows a high unmet need. Just recently, the Minister of Health Professor Isaac Adewale disclosed that Nigeria projects a 36% CPR by December 2018. But to achieve this, services must reach over 7million women especially those in rural settings and young people. So far, it looks like an uphill task and as advocates, we are making little efforts to contribute towards realizing this target. Adolescent girls need to be informed about what happens to their bodies, how to take decisions and also be in control of their sexual encounters. Let us not forget that girls get pregnant via different forms of abuse, e.g. rape, early child marriage, etc. This result in early pregnancies which tends to put their lives at risk and destroys their future plans.
I recently heard a case of a 15 year old girl, who committed suicide after 5months of pregnancy because she got pregnant through rape by her father and she didn’t want her mother to know. This is a pathetic story but if she knew she could access safe abortion, she wouldn’t have contemplated committing suicide. This and many more reasons explain why adolescent girls should not only be informed about contraceptive options buy should be able to access referral pathways leading to safe abortion.
What are some of the barriers that hinder access to abortion services by young girls in Edo State?
One of such barriers is lack of information on available contraceptive options and where to go to access safe abortion. Most adolescent girls seeking abortion do not know where to go to access services. So, they rely on peer groups and sometimes access services from people not professionally qualified to handle such cases. Another is social stigma and punitive anti-abortion laws. There is an urgent need to create safe and reliable referral pathways in Nigeria as well as the need to change punitive laws that push these girls underground to access these services.
How is YNAFGM addressing these challenges?
We started off by conducting trainings on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in secondary schools. We believe that CSE empowers female students to have sound knowledge about their bodies and helps protect their health, well-being and dignity. The program is also designed to bridge the gap on sexuality and teaches them that as young people, they have autonomy over their bodies.
Our second approach is also to create a referral pathway. We are aware that sometimes, adolescent girls are not willing to be open to their teachers or parents about their sexual challenges. To address this, we provide supportive platforms that counsel these students and advise them on the best approaches to handle themselves.
We are also working to develop an online resource database where anyone in need of services or information can access online at very low and even free rates. We are working hard to see that these resources are made available in hard copies in as many schools as possible in the two states where we are working in.
Does Comprehensive Sexuality Education have a role to play in promoting safe access to abortion?
Yes it does, comprehensive Sexuality Education has its own role to play in promoting access to safe abortion. CSE empowers young people with right knowledge to understand the changes occurring in the body as they grow into adulthood. It tells you that in a situation where an unplanned pregnancy occurs, there are safe solutions to solving the issue. So yes, CSE acts as a guideline to prevention and goes further to provide knowledge on safe solutions to arising challenges from unsafe abortion. It enlightens, gives information and also gives ideal steps.
Can you tell us about complications associated with unsafe abortion?
There are numerous complications associated with unsafe abortion. Some of which are damaged wombs. So for some young girls especially those in boarding schools, I am aware of a case where students used wardrobe hanger to insert into their body to pull out the foetus. In that case, imagine a case where she ruptures the womb and further complications that could arise as a result of that.
Others include, haemorrhage, vaginal injuries, sepsis, death, etc. What is your advice for adolescent girls who may want to access safe abortion in Edo state?
On this one, my advice to adolescent girls who may want to access safe abortion in Edo State would be to always seek advice and help from professionals. Advice from peers may not help and society should stop the shaming which supports the culture of silence and exposes girls to more risks.
Let us always seek for the right information, the fact that a particular procedure went well for a person does not guarantee it will be same for you. Your health matters. Let us try not to tilt towards peer pressure. Always seek for the right information; this will save a lot from long term health complications.
Issues on your health should be of great importance to you as well as your career. YNAFGM cares for you and we are open to help you at all times. Reach out to us.