These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.
By: Ajidagba Emman Babatunde (Tunde), Campus Health & Rights Initiative (Nigeria)
As a young advocate from Nigeria, I have seen the numerous challenges that young people experience in my country firsthand. One of the greatest challenges I see in my country is a growing generation of young people – and the difficulties they face in accessing sexual and reproductive health services and realizing their reproductive rights. But I also see this as an opportunity for positive change.
Right now, most young people in my country have an unmet need for modern contraceptives. In other words, they want to use contraceptives, but are not using them for one reason or another. Socio-cultural barriers to youth-friendly information and care and a lack of government resources are among the biggest barriers to Nigerian youth accessing the sexual and reproductive health services they need. In fact, in many cases, young people do not even have a safe place to go where they can receive accurate information to help them make informed decisions about sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptive options or testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS. This should not – and cannot – be the case.
My dream for the future is for all young people in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa have universal access to quality-assured, comprehensive, adolescent- and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and information. I hope to live in a community where young people’s reproductive health and rights are not hindered by socio-cultural norms; where young people can get youth-friendly information and services free from discrimination and stigma; where all young people – whether married or unmarried – have voluntary access to contraceptives so they can avoid unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal deaths; and where all young people are HIV-negative because they have changed their sexual behaviors thanks to the health education and care they’ve received. There and then I can say it will not be a curse to be a youth in Nigeria or sub-Saharan Africa.
To transform my dream into reality, I established a Campus Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion Initiative targeting young people at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Nigeria. The goal of my project is to promote and provide access to comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health services at OAU among young people. Over the next six months, the project will target young people and aims to:
- Increase awareness about contraceptives: Our project team will produce youth-friendly educational materials on contraceptive use and share them in a safe, stigma-free place on campus. We also plan to organize a health forum on contraceptives to encourage dialogues around the use of contraceptives among young people on campus.
- Increase knowledge of HIV/AIDS and prevention strategies: Our team will also encourage voluntary HIV/AIDS testing and counseling to help young people know their statuses. We will also provide students with information on HIV/AIDS prevention to encourage them to adopt behaviors that will protect them from acquiring the disease.
- Increase access to sexual and reproductive health information and services: Our team will use mobile health solutions, like SMS, to overcome barriers to information, such as discrimination and stigma. Through text messages, we will be able to share comprehensive sexual and reproductive information free from service providers’ judgments.
I strongly believe that youth-led projects, like my initiative at OAU, are critical to making my dream a reality. Youth-led projects are designed, planned and executed by youth for youth – and can ultimately help overcome the fear of seeking sexual and reproductive health information and services that has hindered programs’ success in the past.
We know that when information and services are holistic, youth-friendly, and comprehensive, youth respond: they access information and services, and can even change their behaviors to lead healthier lives. This is why I’m proud to be a young person in Nigeria, working with other young people to offer my peers the information and services they need to make informed choices. If we all work together at the individual and community levels, our work can go a long way in making my dream our future.