Closing the Gap in Sexual and Reproductive Health Services and Education

These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.

By: Chukwudera Bridget Okeke, Concern Women International Development Initiative (Nigeria)

My dream for the future is to live in a society where young people and other marginalised groups have full access to sexual and reproductive health services irrespective of their age, gender and ethnicity. As a girl growing up in Nigeria, I noticed that it was often difficult for young people – and young girls in particular – to access sexual and reproductive health education and care. It’s a reality I’ve always wanted to change.

In my experience, barriers to information and services were often a result of cultural practises or religious beliefs that undermined the right of women and girls in patriarchal environments. In some cultures, it is a general belief that young girls are expected to maintain self-pity, and therefore any attempt to seek sexual and reproductive health information or services is often considered taboo or unacceptable. I’ve always wondered: why do some cultures allow young boys, but not girls, to express their sexual desires without any reprimand?

These inequalities not only put girls at a disadvantage, but they also undermined their mental and physical wellbeing. It is my dream to end these disparities through education and access to sexual and reproductive services for young women. This will help reduce their exposure to sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and unsafe abortion.

In an effort to achieve this dream, I am working with the Concern Women International Development Initiative to reduce the burden of HIV/AIDS among young people, female sex workers and their clients in Nigeria’s Benue State. This is so important because although female sex workers only account for 1 percent of the population, they represent 23 percent of new HIV infections.

Specifically, my project is tackling this important issue through group and peer-to-peer education among marginalized populations. In the long run, I hope that education will improve access to treatment for young people and female sex workers in Benue, and that my program can be used as a model to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services in other Nigerian states.  

Youth-led projects are essential to this equation because young people, when mobilized, can really change the world. Although young people are currently considered a vulnerable population, they are also the next generation of leaders and therefore they have a vested interest in developing sustainable and thoughtful plans for the future.

Yet, time and again, young people are excluded from the decision-making process on issues affecting their wellbeing because the older generation believes they are immature or unable to make well-informed decisions about their rights.

But we know that young people are knowledgeable, creative and well informed about issues that affect them. To achieve a future where women and other vulnerable populations have full access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, we must listen to our youth and support their programs.

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