A group of Nigerian girls have expressed concern over the reproductive health and rights of females in Nigeria, saying they bear the brunt of gender-based violence, stereotyping, stigmatisation, and policies that leave girls confused and unhappy.
The girls, who spoke one after the other at a media roundtable in Abuja recently, organised by the Federal Ministry of Health, and the Society for Family Planning to mark the 2019 International Day of the Girl Child, said there were many cases of policy inconsistency or lack of policy on issues that clearly need legal or policy directions, and failure to implement laws or punish those who commit gender-related offences, all of which contribute to the confusion.
A young designer with Adolescents 360 Project implemented by Society for Family Health, Synderella Bulus, who made a presentation on ‘What Does the Nigerian Girl-child Want?, said the girl child wants her voice to be heard; she wants to work, pursue a career and become relevant in the society without restriction; she wants to be at liberty to marry at will and to a man of her choice.
She said: “Most adolescent girls lack parental care and support as they are seen to soon end up in a man’s house as wives, and while finances are readily available for other things, it is usually not for the girl child’s education as she is not made a priority.
“When the girl child is educated, she is coerced to study a particular course, and not the course of her choice just because she is a girl. Worse, girls are pressured into not coming back home after graduation without getting all set for marriage.
“There is poor communication between the girl child and her mother, particularly on issues around reproductive health. Girls from broken homes lack proper parenting, and so lack support systems for advice and counseling.”
An out-of-school girl from Kurudu District, Karshi Road in the FCT, Grace Maduka, charged that it was necessary to educate mothers because many don’t understand sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, particularly rape; rather they’re judgmental. “A girl is raped and is in pain, and all her mother has to says, ‘What were you wearing?’
“Some girls get pregnant through rape, and they’re afraid to talk to their mothers or other elders because they are going to be insulted, judged or crucified; so, they go to friends who may not know much either. They end up in some small clinic for abortion, and in the end lose their womb. There is need for intervention programmes to educate mothers in the communities,” she said.
Aishatu also spoke of the need for intervention programmes for boys, saying that the preponderance of intervention programmes catering to girls alone was unhealthy.
“Boys are left out. One of my male friends once asked me, ‘Why is it just girls, girls, girls. Did God create only girls? We girls are just much more vulnerable, but then a girl can’t impregnate herself,” Aishatu waxed philosophical.
The Deputy Director, Gender, Adolescents, School Health and Elderly Care (GASHE), Mrs Oluyemisi Ayoola said it was beautiful programming for girls and giving them wings to fly, but that oftentimes the wings were clipped by some of the relationships they start.
She said: “If we really want our adolescent girls to soar, we cannot leave out adolescent boys. We should also programme for boys because, if we’re aiming for demographic dividends, we cannot achieve it with the girls alone. Boys are also abused. Boys need to learn about relationships – that love is not sex, and if a girl says “no”, her “no” is “no”.
The Project Director, Adolescents 360 Project, Hajiya Fatima Muhammad who explained the attention paid to girls, said: “We seem to be more concerned about girls because it is girls who bear the brunt of the things that are not right about SRH in Nigeria, and violence from males—pregnancy, stigma, trauma etc.”