Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Visits 9ja Girls Flagship Site

L-R: Manya Dotson (Adolescent 360 Global Director), Lester Coutinho (Deputy director, Family Planning BMGF), Kelly Sloan (Director of Family Planning BMGF), and Rodio Diallo (Senior Program Officer, Country Action Acceleration Family Planning, Global Development BMGF)

Hello Lagos youth friendly center, Alimosho L.G.A; Lagos State

9ja Girls Program was designed with and for adolescent girls in Nigeria. It is a safe space where Girls go to learn skills for Life, Love and Health (LL&H). Girls learn various vocational skills and get to discuss key skills with trained Youth Friendly Counsellors and Providers on topics like Goal setting, Values, Self-esteem, Friendship & Relationships, STI and HIV Prevention, Menstruation, Sex, Pregnancy & Prevention of unplanned Pregnancy. The program is user centered, and evidence based. It is built on collaborative efforts and teamwork of the Adolescent 360 project consortium partners, Federal and State Ministry of Health, Primary Health Care Board, and high level of Youth Engagement from the communities (Young Designers).

The realities of challenges facing the adolescent girls in Nigeria is seen frequently in the 9ja Girls spaces. These challenges exist notwithstanding the socio economic, educational or marital status of adolescent girls. We have learnt that for most adolescent girls, power dynamics influence every sexual and romantic relationship—through money, gender, and social status and the immediate benefits of having sex outweigh the thoughts of potential risks of getting pregnant. On the other hand, girls feel powerless, vulnerable, and scared of the pervasive sexual violence in their community.

We believe in equipping girls with the skills they need to build their own future, empowering girls to make their own choices about love, relationships, dating and sex. Through 9ja Girls classes, girls are introduced to skills that can help them become financially independent and provide for themselves and their families.

By teaching girls, the concepts of communication, mutual respect and consent, we help girls understand how to engage in healthy relationships. We believe that every girl has the right to make informed choices about her own body and sexual and reproductive health, including deciding when she is ready to have children. By teaching girls about sexual and reproductive health, providing non-judgmental counseling, and offering services to prevent unplanned pregnancy, we help girls understand how to protect themselves and make decisions that are right for their own bodies and lives

9ja Girls Pilot launched in September 2017, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) visited one of the sites, to observe the process and discuss the program challenges. Kelly Sloan (Director of Family Planning BMGF) interacted with the 9ja Girls to find out the most exciting moments they’ve had on the program and things they’ve learnt. The girls expressed great excitement about all the skills they’ve learnt from the vocational skills, life mapping exercise and Spice talk on Life, Love, and Health, especially the spice talk on handling friendship and relationships.

9ja Girls Providers also had the opportunity to discuss some challenges they face with BMGF; these include required parental consent and assent for girls aged 15 – 17 before they can access SRH services. Some girls out rightly decline taking up the forms, while others take the forms but do not return to access services. Currently only adolescent girls aged 18 – 19 are able to access SRH services, after documenting their consent. This implies that adolescent girls below 18 are still highly vulnerable to unplanned Pregnancies.

At the end of the visit, BMGF and SFH – A 360 Nigeria team concluded that, for adolescent SRH services in Nigeria to be successful, a girl only space within Youth Friendly Centers or in health facilities (public and private) is required. This program supports the Government of Nigeria in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 3, which is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages.

By: Joy Ede Otsanya