A gender equality and sexual reproductive health advocate, Sarah Kuponiyi, has urged government to prioritize sexual reproductive health for adolescent girls. Kuponiyi, who is passionate about adolescent health, said it was necessary due to the critical choices that impact their future.
Most adolescent girls are unable to access the information and services they need to protect their sexual and reproductive health and plan for their lives, she said.
Kuponiyi stressed that the menace of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion that could disrupt their transition process must be checked through enabling financial empowerment of adolescent girls. She made the call during a media chat expressing her interest in creating awareness around adolescent girls
Kuponiyi said the move was necessary on her part as an effective strategy to curb unsafe abortions from unintended pregnancies and other challenges facing adolescent girls in Nigeria.
She said, “Government needs to protect and improve adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health. This will mitigate some of the barriers they face on their journeys, and empower them to work towards the futures they envision.
“Unintended pregnancies often end the dreams and goals of most girls. When a girl gives birth, she often drops out of school, doesn’t receive support from the baby’s father and his family, and may be kicked out by her parents. The plight of the adolescent girl today is enormous.”
“There are numerous reproductive health challenges encountered by adolescents, due to lack of economic opportunities and support from their parents, also she advocated for economic empowerment for girls.
Kuponiyi said that the economic gap responsible for the inability of adolescent girls to obtain higher education, making them unable to fend for themselves and often vulnerable to advances from men.
She stated that without economic opportunities or support from parents, adolescent girls are often under pressure to depend on men for financial support and gifts in exchange for sex, noting that after secondary school, the path to higher education or jobs was dime for girls unable to fend for themselves making them even more vulnerable to undue advances from men.
This includes comprehensive sexuality education that teaches young people about their rights and their options, as well as programmes to ensure that girls and young women have access to a range of contraceptive methods. We also need government to pass supportive policies that impact reproductive health like increasing the legal age of marriage in countries where child marriage is still prevalent.
These efforts show the Nigerian government’s commitment to improving access to the family planning services that Nigerian girls and women want – and deserve.
We need to reduce the stigma associated with youth sexuality. Even when girls and young women are informed about family planning and services are available, many do not access the services due to fear of reproach or criticism.
To lower cultural and social barriers to care, we must engage community leaders – including political and religious leaders in Nigeria– as champions for youth sexual and reproductive health and rights. We also need to train health care workers to provide services to young people confidentially and without judgment.
We need to encourage and empower young people to be their own advocates and agents for change. Young people in Nigeria and everywhere have the right to the knowledge, tools and services they need to make informed decisions about their bodies and live full, healthy and productive lives.
Kuponiyi as a young Nigerian gender advocate and social educator expressed her passion for youth leadership.Her work cut across gender equality and sexual reproductive health.
Kuponiyi is keen in addressing the concerns of girls, women and youths, particularly adolescent girls in the African context.
She is a certified adolescent sexual health professional from Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research (GFMER) Switzerland and other certifications she had obtained from Global Health Learning Center,an affiliate of John Hopkins Public Health Institute and Founder/ Executive Director of A Well-Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative, moreso the Founder of Alora Reusable Pads a social enterprise that addresses period poverty by creating eco-friendly menstrual hygiene, products freely distributed to schools and vulnerable girls in rural communities.
Her work on female empowerment has taken her to different places in Nigeria and some part of the world.
She emphasized are interest in adolescence sexual and reproductive health base on the phase “adolescence” according to her,in every individual is a critical time of growth, from intense physical change to hormonal, cognitive and social change. It is also the time for the formation of one’s identity which is different from one’s parents. Every young person at this stage, are eager to experiment with relationships and behaviors that they don’t have pre-informed idea about and how it affect their present and future wellbeing.
The World Health estimates that about two-thirds of pre-mature deaths in adults are related to early adoption of harmful behaviours initiated in adolescence,such as unprotected sex, violence, substance abuse etc so you can imagine if adolescents are provided with tools and resources early enough to make informed choices and decisions today have long term repercussion on their life it will give them the right foundation and opportunity to transition to healthy adults.
As an advocate adolescent girls,she engaged in various issues mitigating against girls. Some my work,includes rights violation of adolescent females in Nigeria, my organization make effort to address the issue,through our work, we have created awareness through sensitization, programmes, I have equally organized campaigns, using both traditional and non-traditional media, we have been part of policy adoption advocacy in the state, we also provide safe space where adolescents, not just girls both male and females can visit without fear or prejudice. We equally organized activities that are tailored specifically for the female adolescents to enable them understand their rights early.
Also, I had the opportunity to have been selected as one of the five(5) representatives for Nigeria working (voluntarily) as National Gender Youth Activist (NGYA) for United Nations Women HQ HQ in New York where I work remotely with other NGYAs from Africa Region and other continent to consult with youth networks and youth constituencies across the continent to develop and design Generation Equality action blue prints, which was presented to the UN Women E.D Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka among other UN Women officials, Action Coalition Youth Leaders, Generation Equality Task Force and other NYGAs. And as the train of Generation Equality Forum intensifies, I was also part of the planning committee for CSW 65 Youth Forum, where I worked with other NGYAs to plan and execute the event; I worked on concept development, mobilization, communication and facilitation. A successful one at that with over 600 registered participants and positive feedbacks. She works with GEF Action Coalition Leaders and Youth Task Force to plan for the Paris Forum Youth event. Doing these works enable me to share the challenges women face globally and to also push for policies adoption, government and private sector commitment in ensuring the reality of generation equality.
Also a Beijing Eagle(Women Advocate) with other selected women for UN Women Nigeria where we work to ensure we localized whatever is being done at the global level.
Moreso, in order to eradicate gender inequality, prevailing culture, and traditions that marginalized women in Nigeria,I engaged a mantra “Catch them young” young people still have impressionable hearts, before they become adults and fully embrace these traditions we let them know the concept of justice, equality and equity. This we do by teaching them early about harmful gender norms, how they affect their sexual reproductive health and how it undermines healthy relationships. For us we always have engaging youth programs that brings boys and girls together for them to consider and address gender norms, toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. For the adults we keep creating awareness about these issues.
Further more, she said our role in A Well-Informed Adolescent Initiative (AWA) consist of specific issues that we had to address.
The roles are numerous, as an organization that is still growing,we perform numerous duties some of which are but not limited to; I led the team in implementing all donor funded projects we have coordinated A Well-Informed Adolescent campaign project, served as a team lead in relating project,work and processes to stakeholders, partners and media support staff to conduct, a youth programming service,mapping and developing a specific referral pathway to facilitate referral for reproductive health issues, planning of annual board of trustees meetings.
However, dealing with a project as this It’s time consuming and mentally tasking.
“My life is all about work with little or no time for other things of life but lately I am making conscious effort to live a balance life.
The challenges involves in handling gender based violence,prevention at the grassroot or community is having to contend with community gate keepers and community strong holds let me not go there while for young people it just a matter of them trusting you enough and the work becomes easier.
However, the civil society sector have always been where I engaged myself. It started from the university where I started doing volunteering services on campus with an organization that focuses on health, it was my first Job which was my Place of Primary Assignment (PPA)for NYSC was an International NGO, so I have always been in the space, after serving I did my internship with them as well, currently working with an indigenous NGO on ICHASA 1 USAID project while running AWA Initiative. So literally all my work experience has been in the civil society sector.
She explained that young ones who are interested, at the moment can only take up voluntary role, if interested and have the skills set, or maybe they don’t have skills set but they are willing to grow,what we usually do at (AWA) A Well-Informed Adolescent Initiative, is to provide the platform, where young people can learn on the job as long as they are teachable,we work with them. So they can get in touch from our website.
Kuponiyi stressed that gender advocacy is not for the faint hearted, tackling it,one should consider the challenges involved.
“God has been faithful. In our entire project we always identify risk factors and also provide ways to mitigate them. We also work with partners, stakeholders and community gate-keepers to ensure the work is thoroughly done.
“The brain behind the Alora Reusable pad,is the economic crunch, I considered hardship and the hikes of commodities,then my vision to improve the well-being, of girls, especially the underprivileged ones, I had to design something different.
That is how it came into existence,Alora Reusable Pads is a registered social enterprise it was established to solve Period Poverty by producing and selling eco-friendly reusable menstrual hygiene products from specialized fabrics that are comfortable to the skin, hygienic, and affordable. Alora pads saves you money, you can imagine how much you would have spent at the end of the year on buying disposable pads unlike buying a pack of alora reusable pads that can last you months or years, depending on usage and method of cleaning, which in the long run will cost you less money. It is also safer for the body, environmentally friendly, fashionably feminine and affordable.
She narrated her experience: “As a younger girl who stayed with her father, I could not afford to buy sanitary pads for myself due to how pads were unaffordable for someone like me, neither was I able to ask him for such due to culture of shyness and silence. Likewise, working on school health outreaches made me realized this situation has not change and the Story is what cut across all region of the country; Nigeria is one of the countries that place a heavy tax on menstrual products. Without access to proper menstrual products, many girls miss classes and older women are unable to attend work A pack of sanitary pads cost an average of $1.30, even as an estimated 44% of Nigeria’s population (87 Million people) lives in extreme poverty earning less than $1.90 per day, women and girls may delay urination and defecation but it is not possible to stop menstrual flow. The lack of affordable sanitary products also exacerbates anxiety and stress during menstruation and increases their vulnerability to gender based violence and sexually transmitted infections.
Alora Reusable Pads was created to solve Period Poverty by producing and selling eco-friendly reusable menstrual hygiene products from specialized fabrics that are comfortable to the skin, hygienic, and affordable. Alora Reusable Pads are made for every woman and girl. It is affordable, easy to use, comfortable and available in three sizes with varying thickness to fit every woman at all times. It is made of several layers of absorbent fabrics including cotton and water proof fabrics and it has numerous benefits such as saves you money, very economical, environmentally friendly, safer for the body, fashionably feminine and very affordable.
“Doing business in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted, so many challenges, like the lack of electricity, costs of registration, bureaucracy and bottleneck especially in doing the required registration has not been easy. Also challenge of employee retention, for instance you might have someone who is crude, comes in,you train the person and when it is time to start giving you good work,they decide to leave.
More so, she noted that access to funds and opportunities should be given to young ones as a new start up,there are several hurdles and equally challenging.
“Nonetheless, I am grateful for the support from both government and private sector,I have received so far, I believe with time it will progress.
Kuponiyi urged every young person out there, who had the desire to know their self-sense, self-worth and individual identity early in life, at most before they leave secondary school to pursue it and be impactful.
“This would go a long way to guide the decisions they make as they journey in life. Discovering my passion early in life, during my secondary school gave me that sense of intentionality about my being, I have never left anything to chance despite not having anyone in my family to pattern my life after, but the consciousness of being made for more and living an intentional life has always brought the right set of people around me If you want to do Music know early, develop your core values early, you want dance start early, whatever venture ensure you thrive to make impact.