Lagos Corps Member Flies Nigeria’s Flag at United Nations General Assembly

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Caleb Adebayo writes on the many achievements of a young Nigerian

Olaoluwa Abagun, a young lawyer and corps member serving in Lagos State recently represented Nigeria at the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York where she spoke on a panel at the H6 event alongside the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and UN Women Deputy Executive Director. The H6 is an event that brings together the UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN WOMEN, WHO and The World Bank for synergised actions on Sexual Reproductive Maternal Newborn Child and Adolescent Health (SRMNCAH). For her, it was a lifelong dream come true. She was selected and sponsored to attend, alongside two young women from Cameroon and India by Women Deliver, an organisation that works to advance the rights of women.

Olaoluwa’s story is multifaceted, one of hope and sheer determination. She is the founder of Girl Pride Circle, a non-profit that is committed to ensuring adolescent girls are empowered to advocate for their rights and well-being. She is a Women Deliver Young Fellow, a British Council Future Leader,a Learner of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) and a Carrington Youth Fellow of the United States Consulate, Lagos. From her days as a member of the Nigerian children’s parliament to leading her class of almost 400 students as the class representative during her undergraduate days at Obafemi Awolowo University, she has continued to make giant strides, excel at leadership and show more women that there are no barriers.

Olaoluwa’s journey started at the tender age of 13 when she was nominated to join the Nigerian Children’s Parliament by her Government teacher at Queens’ College – Mrs. Ezeozue. This early experience exposed her to the social realities of children in Nigeria, particularly the peculiar challenges of the girl-child. It was a matter of time and chance colluding with the universe to define her path, and in her words ‘Once I got a taste of advocacy and social change, I couldn’t look back.’

She was inspired to start Girl Pride Circle in 2014 as an undergraduate by Jonah Obajeun, curator of a one week residential bootcamp, Tolerance Academy, who posed to her the fundamental question ‘What is your problem?’ After a lot of reflection, she admitted that her ‘problem’ was the fact that adolescent girls were not being empowered enough to take charge of the future.

In narrating her story of growth over the years, Olaoluwa recounts how she started Girl Pride Circle alone without proper structure, a team, funding or any other form of support and now it has grown to become a registered NGO with a committed team of six young people and 40 project-based volunteers and has till date reached over 1,500 adolescent girls across South-west Nigeria through their education clubs and grassroots workshops. In her words “Early this year, we mobilised 270 adolescent girls to draft a Community Action Plan for the Prevention of Sexual Violence for Alimosho Local Government in Lagos which was adopted by the Local Government authorities and is currently in the hands of over 1,500 community stakeholders. We also keep over 200 adolescent girls by providing them with termly supplies of sanitary towels, with the support of our generous donors.” She believes her growth process is ongoing and has been aided by being open to learning, collaborating with others and putting impact first.

Ola, as she is fondly called, believes in the strength of numbers and as such, is glad that there are so many organisations and individuals working in the same sphere as Girl Pride Circle to empower adolescent girls. She enthused “For decades, girls have been spoken for.

The headlines show us what people ‘think’ girls need and the solutions they ‘think’ works for girls. We are championing a new wave of civic empowerment and education of adolescent girls that equips them to speak for themselves and create innovative solutions that serve them best.”

On the issue of women’s access to opportunities and platforms, she believes that the voice of women and girls is important to every conversation and decision process that affects female lives and development. She quips, “There should be nothing about us without us because no one can better capture our unique challenges and perspective.” She advocates for more women to make their voices by being intentional about speaking out and taking advantage of various digital platforms. “As young women, we should not always wait to be invited to the table. Let us seize all available opportunities to drag our chairs there and even be prepared to sit on the floor if that is what it takes to contribute our strong voices. Women need to act with the consciousness that when we are not at the table, we are most likely on the menu!”

Olaoluwa also believes, and is an example of the fact that, even though the world’s systems are poised against women, amazing women across the world have shattered glass ceilings. She encourages women to amplify these often stifled success stories and better still, work towards replicating them. She admits that these stories are what keep her going. “I thrive by making excellence my non-negotiable value. In a world where women have to work twice as hard to access opportunities, mediocrity only takes you several steps backwards.”

Olaoluwa’s social media profile reads ‘unapologetic feminist’ and true to it, she believes strongly in the ideology. For her, feminism is simply equal socioeconomic and political opportunities for all, regardless of gender. She cleared the air on the concept “It is not a battle of the sexes as projected by many who have misunderstood the noble movement. I stand by Chimamanda Adichie’s proposition that ‘we should all be feminists’.”

She further spoke on an important issue of neglect for upbringing of male children while emphasising on ‘right behaviour’ for girls and highlighted it as a major failing of society that has created societal imbalance and has bred young men that are unprepared for society. “As a society, we need to ensure that we level up the behavioural standards for both boys and girls. Whether male or female, children will grow up to shape the world we live in and every child should be adequately prepared for this role.”

As a corps member, she bared her mind on the NYSC programme and the need for it to be revamped. “More efforts should be made to ensure that the year of service is spent doing meaningful work that actually resonates with each individual. Places of Primary Assignment (PPAs) should provide experiences that advance every individual’s career and personal development goals. Also, improving the welfare of corps members is a great way to inspire commitment.”

When asked to give a word of inspiration for young girls trying to make a difference, she encouraged them to learn to derive fulfilment from the impact their work creates and not from accolades, awards or pats on the back. She continued “When you are fixated on the applause, you stifle your creativity and trade the opportunity to shake your world.”